Through July and August, I’m evaluating high-profile NASCAR free agents in advance of the 2022 Cup Series season, with valuations of their on-track production, identification of their statistical strengths and weaknesses and analysis of their best fit among likely suitors.
Today’s evaluation highlights Ryan Preece, currently a driver for JTG Daugherty Racing.
The Skinny: The first Modified racer to permeate NASCAR’s top flight series since Steve Park in 1997, Ryan Preece represents a beacon of hope for racers in the Northeast, a hotbed for racing talent in a genre of the sport still too often ignored by Cup Series decision-makers.
And whether Preece keeps his place in the Cup Series depends on if these same decision-makers recognize the effort he’s putting into a JTG Daugherty Racing program that misses the mark in terms of speed (ranked 25th in average median lap time), pit crew (ranked 29th in median four-tire box time) and financial stability (Preece’s ride is not one of NASCAR’s 36 chartered programs, thus receiving a smaller share of purse revenue).
Open Market Value: Preece’s exact production is worth $1.095 million per season according to Motorsports Analytics driver valuations. This OMV represents a 233.84 percent increase from his value at the end of 2020. A regression analysis projects a 2022 season worth $1.316 million on the open market.
Stat Profile: Preece’s strengths and style are visible in his spider chart, compared to other drivers with similar average running positions:
With what constitutes as bang-average speed within the wide 19th-28th running group, Preece ranks in the 83rd percentile for surplus passing — he’s earned a yearlong adjusted pass differential 79 spots better than his statistical expectation — while proving above average in the categories of position retention on non-preferred groove restarts and crash avoidance. He also ranks as the most efficient passer among full-time Cup drivers this season on road courses.
His Production in Equal Equipment Rating, which has improved with each subsequent season in the Cup Series, is right at average against drivers most frequently near him, including Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Bubba Wallace, Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe.
Likely Suitors: JTG Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing
Best Fit: JTG Daugherty Racing
For Preece, there are dream rides for which finding sponsor funding is worth the trouble. Then there’s one realistic ride that represents the most likely outcome.
The dream rides are with Richard Childress Racing, a Cup organization that’s eyed Preece as an option for its Xfinity Series program, and Stewart-Haas Racing, in the odd scenario Almirola and personal sponsor Smithfield Foods do not return (Preece is represented by KHI Management, owned by SHR driver Kevin Harvick).
And while certainly Preece desires a chance to be more competitive within NASCAR’s top divisions, those options would require funding that isn’t currently present. The option that does not is the ride he already has with JTG Daugherty, a program heavily backed by The Kroger Company. This represents the likeliest landing spot for the 30-year-old driver.
Despite its competitive shortcomings, JTG Daugherty is the organization that initially plucked Preece from a part-time Xfinity Series ride, a signaled belief that’d hopefully encourage more investment in someone who’s proven to be a quantifiably productive talent given his surroundings.