NEWTON, Iowa – Ryan Preece turned a golden opportunity into a huge NASCAR XFINITY Series win on Saturday afternoon, kicking down the door to victory lane with a dominant performance in the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway.
Preece’s maiden XFINITY win came in his second start for Joe Gibbs Racing and his 38th series start overall.
After earning the pole in qualifying and winning the opening stage, Preece survived three restarts inside the final 25 laps – including one in overtime – and held off teammate Kyle Benjamin for the breakthrough victory.
The fun began with 20 laps left, when Sam Hornish Jr. lost a right front tire in Turn 4 and shot up the race track, pounding the outside wall and drawing the caution flag to end a 53-lap green flag stint.
Preece was the leader at that point, and lined up for a 13-lap dash alongside Benjamin as the field came back to green. Though Benjamin briefly challenged Preece, the 19-year-old was forced to fall back in line as a hard crash by Garrett Smithley quickly brought the yellow back out with 11 to go.
From there, seven laps remained when racing resumed again, with Benjamin challenging Preece tit for tat on the bottom lane while a surging Brian Scott laid pressure to Preece’s rear bumper from behind in the high lane.
Boxed in and seemingly with nowhere to go, Preece nearly lost the top spot to Benjamin at the line with six to go, but was able to squeeze out of the tight battle and open up a four car length lead before Matt Tifft got sucked around by Brennan Poole in a fight for fifth, crashing with Ty Majeski and Dylan Lupton with four circuits remaining.
That set up overtime, and Benjamin was money on the gun. He pressed Preece hard on the inside lane, nearly making contact as the two raced toe to toe for two full laps, nearly side-by-side the entire way.
But in the end, Preece got a massive run off the exit of Turn 2 to clear Benjamin down the backstretch, and that space was enough for Preece to hold on despite a final run by Benjamin off the exit of the final corner.
Preece edged out Benjamin at the finish line by .054 of a second in a near-photo finish, making for a tearful victory lane celebration.
“I don’t even know what to say,” an emotional Preece said in victory lane. “I have to thank everybody involved. I’m just so lost for words right now that I don’t even know what to say. This is what emotion is, I can tell you that.”
“I knew Kyle (Benjamin) had a really good car on the long run … but I knew for two laps I could hold him off,” Preece added. “Every time we kept getting cautions it definitely helped, but he did a really good job. His car kept it clean and I kept it clean.”
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