Stewart-Haas Racing shuffles lineup; Preece moves up to Cup fulltime

ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN - JULY 04: Ryan Preece, driver of the #37 Maxwell House/Kroger Chevrolet, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip at Road America on July 04, 2021 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Stewart-Haas Racing is moving Ryan Preece from his role as a reserve driver back into the NASCAR Cup series in the team’s No. 41 Ford and sending Cole Custer to a part-time role in the NASCAR Xfinity series.

Preece raced fulltime in the Cup series for JTG-Daughtry Racing from 2019-2021 before moving to the reserve role at SHR where he spent last season doing simulator work for the team and made two starts in the Cup series. He also added several Xfinity and Truck starts that included a Truck Series win from the pole June 24 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, his second straight victory at the 1.333-mile oval near Music City.

“Ryan Preece has been a real asset to our race team this year as we’ve developed the NextGen car. The time and effort he’s put into our program, combined with his real-world racing experience, earned him this opportunity,” said Tony Stewart, co-owner of SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas.

Custer has driven the No. 41 since his rookie year in 2020 when he delivered a victory at Kentucky Speedway in just his 20th career Cup Series start. Custer will head back to the Xfinity Series, where he is a 10-time race winner, and be a teammate to Riley Herbst, who returns to SHR for a third straight season and his fourth fulltime year in the Xfinity Series.

“Cole Custer has been a part of SHR since 2017 and we’re glad to have him stay with us,” Stewart said. “Cole’s experience will be invaluable to Riley Herbst as he continues his development in the Xfinity Series.”

Preece made a name for himself on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour – NASCAR’s oldest division and the only open-wheel series sanctioned by NASCAR. Preece won the Tour championship in 2013 and worked hard to leverage that title into additional opportunities in the Xfinity Series – NASCAR’s stepping-stone division to the elite Cup Series.

After spending all of 2016 with an underfunded team that delivered a best finish of 10th, Preece mortgaged his house to secure two races with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in 2017. Preece finished second in his JGR debut at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and then won in his very next start at Iowa Speedway in Newton. In his next five Xfinity Series starts, Preece never finished outside of the top-10, a run capped with a second victory in April 2018 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

“This is the opportunity I’ve been working for,” Preece said. “Nothing was guaranteed at the start of this year, but I felt like if I put in the time, whether it was in a racecar or in a simulator, that SHR was the place for me. It’s a company built by racers, for racers, and it’s exactly where I want to be.

“I know this season just finished and most people are looking to take a break, but I can’t wait to get going.”

Preece will make his debut with the team in February in the non-points Clash race in L.A.

“Ryan has bet on himself a couple of times in his career, and it’s always paid off. Now we’re betting on him,” Stewart said.

“I’ve run some Modified Tour races and it’s a tough series with a lot of talent. Ryan’s Mod Tour championship speaks to his talent, and I think he proved that when he pushed all his chips into the middle of the table and bet on himself by getting those Xfinity Series races with Gibbs. When he finally got the right opportunity, he delivered in a big way.

“Now, Ryan’s got the right opportunity in Cup. We’re proud to have him and look forward to seeing what he can do in our racecars.”