We’ve got our rookie class for the 2019 season. It was announced last Friday (Sept. 28) that Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric will both move up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and compete against each other for Rookie of the Year.
More rookies could be added to the list later, but the focus of the battle will likely be on Preece and Hemric. That leads to this week’s question: Will Preece or Hemric have the better NASCAR career?
It Ain’t Easy Being Preece-y
Last week, JTG Daugherty Racing tabbed Ryan Preece to wheel its No. 47 Toyota in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series full time in 2019, replacing AJ Allmendinger.
JTG got the better prospect in this situation, and the first reason is simple: Preece is a winner.
No disrespect intended for Hemric. He is an excellent choice for the Richard Childress Racing team. But JTG scored an experienced leadfoot with the capability of winning immediately.
Preece-mania was in full effect last summer when he made his much-publicized stint for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The 27-year-old native of Berlin, Conn. essentially bet the farm to get a pair of races in Gibbs equipment.
It paid off in a big way. Preece finished second in the first race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and followed it up with a victory from the pole at Iowa Speedway two weeks later. He would make two more starts in 2017, finishing in the top five both times. In 2018, he has 10 starts in the XFINITY Series. He has finished ninth or better in seven of the eight events where he was running at the end, including a second win at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Preece’s pedigree is in modifieds mainly. The open-wheel, wide-base cars have excellent traction and put a premium on driver skill. He has 22 Whelen Modified Tour victories, as well as a win in the 2017 Whelen All Star Challenge. Additionally, Preece has finished in the top 10 in two-thirds of his starts in that series.
Preece is also a workhorse who has spent years building his own cars. The knowledge gained by turning his own wrenches is a huge upside for a driver who needs to be able to communicate with team members how to set up and adjust their race car. He’s made his way to where he is via a road not often traveled anymore. He worked his way up from lower level divisions and series by being successful, not by cutting a check.
It’s true that he was driving arguably one of the best cars in the field. But merely sitting in the Joe Gibbs Racing entry isn’t a guarantee of success. Plenty of drivers have been behind the wheel of that car without a trophy to show for it.
I’d be willing to bet the farm he’s going to pick up several more trophies in the near future. -Frank Velat
Hemric Ain’t No Gimmick
Daniel Hemric is a stone-cold racer who will get the job done at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level and have a better career than Preece.
The current NASCAR XFINITY Series regular replaces Ryan Newman in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 Chevrolet next season. While RCR doesn’t tear it up on the track like in the Dale Earnhardt days, the equipment is still superior to JTG Daugherty.
JTG had a technical alliance with Childress for this season and its entries have trailed both RCR cars for most of the season. RCR drivers Austin Dillon and Newman are 14th and 17th in points, while JTG drivers Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger are 23rd and 24th. So the RCR entries are currently better for at least six spots on the track.
Next season, JTG switches to Hendrick Motorsports’ engines, so the team may have more speed, but they might not. Since Hendrick is a four-car team, JTG will be getting Hendrick’s fifth and sixth best engines. Right now, they’re probably getting RCR’s third and fourth best equipment.
Let’s not forget that Buescher is a talented driver who beat the likes of Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez to win the XFINITY championship in 2015. Like Preece, Buescher looked like the next great driver, but he’s only netted two top-five finishes in the past two seasons at JTG. That should say enough about the JTG equipment. Preece is tremendously talented too, but he will stall out next year in the No. 47.
Hemric will have a much better opportunity at Childress, who has had a least one car in the playoffs every year since 2010. Newman has struggled this year, but he won a race in the No. 31 last year and was the championship runner-up in 2014. Meanwhile, Dillon has won a race in each of the past two seasons and was in position to advance to the Round of 12 in this year’s playoffs until bad luck struck at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
And while RCR currently lacks the speed to compete with the powerhouse teams on a weekly basis, Hemric is a driver who can make the most out of the equipment he’s in. RCR’s XFINITY program was bad last year — it was the first winless season since 2011 when the organization didn’t field a full-time car. Yet there was Hemric, who nickel and dimed his way to the Championship Four through consistency.
Hemric’s solid driving last season, while his team cars struggled, was enough to catch the eye of Brendan Gaughan, who retired from full-time competition and moved his South Point Casinos sponsorship over to Hemric’s No. 21 for this season.
Everyone’s biggest knock on Hemric is he’s never won a NASCAR national touring series race, but had he ever driven a Joe Gibbs Racing car in XFINITY as Preece has then Hemric would probably have several wins. On the other hand, when Preece was in inferior equipment in his rookie XFINITY season at JD Motorsports, he only scored one top 10. Those cars could’ve gotten better in the past two seasons, but Ross Chastain has six top 10s in just 25 races with JD this season.
RCR is a much bigger and stronger team than JD, but my point is that Preece hasn’t shown he can set the world on fire when he doesn’t have the best equipment. Hemric can.
Both Hemric and Preece are great drivers who belong in the Cup Series. Both of their journeys have been inspiring, and I love the fact that both made it to Cup on their talent alone. However, Hemric is going to have a better career than Preece. -Michael Massie