NASCAR: 5 drivers who could earn their first playoff spot

Ty Gibbs, Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Ty Gibbs, Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
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Ryan Preece, NASCAR
Ryan Preece, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

Drivers who could steal their first playoff spots: No. 3 – Ryan Preece

When Aric Almirola announced that he planned to retire at the end of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Ryan Preece was the driver whom many considered a shoo-in to replace him behind the wheel of the No. 10 Ford.

Preece was looking like the smartest driver on the planet at the time, having literally just signed a deal to serve as Stewart-Haas Racing’s reserve driver, a deal which included select starts in all three national series with Stewart-Haas Racing-affiliated teams, a few days prior to Almirola’s announcement.

But Almirola ultimately changed his mind and decided to return to the Cup Series for at least another year in 2023, at which point it looked as though a Stewart-Haas Racing team that had recently seen a driver change after five straight years would have the same lineup for the third consecutive season in 2023.

However, that’s when speculation began to heat up about Cole Custer’s future, given his string of underwhelming performances since being promoted to the Cup Series in 2020. Indeed, he is set to drop back down to the Xfinity Series in 2023, and Preece is set to move to Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cup Series team after all, driving the No. 41 Ford.

With Kevin Harvick set to retire after the 2023 season and Almirola potentially intending to do the same, Preece will want to have a big year one with the organization to establish himself as a driver, along with Chase Briscoe, to build around.

Can Preece, who spent three seasons competing full-time for JTG Daugherty Racing from 2019 to 2021, find victory lane in what is his best career opportunity yet?