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Melillo’s Mind – Risking it all for a Better Future

Ryan Preece made his final start for Joe Gibbs Racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday. Photo: Dante Ricci/TRE

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — This past weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway brought closure to the 2018 NASCAR season, with celebrations of many accolades and a wave of changes that will happen over this off-season.

2018 was a year that was showcased with talented drivers taking risks, whether it be on the track or off, with many having their future in the sport on their mind.

Ryan Preece can be considered as one of the catalysts, as back in the 2017 season, he left his full time ride with JD Motorsports and signed on for a part time schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing.

The difference in race equipment was substantial, as he went from a 15th to 20th place car, to a car that could win on any given weekend.

Preece made the most of it, only starting in four races in the 2017 season, but coming home with four Top-5 finishes, plus a victory at Iowa Speedway.

In 2018, his amount of races nearly quadrupled, as he started 15 races in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, gaining sponsorship from Craftsman mid season. Again, Preece did not disappoint, bringing back another victory at Bristol, seven Top-5 finishes, and ten Top-10’s.

“It put me where I needed to be, with an opportunity to win,” Preece told The Racing Experts about his decision to go part time with Joe Gibbs Racing. “We were able to win two races in about 20 total races. It was very good, and I appreciate everything they (Joe Gibbs Racing) have done for me.”

Preece will transition to another full time ride in 2019, but this time, it will be at the top level of competition, in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) with JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 47 Camaro.

“I’m looking forward to moving forward to JTG, building a career, and hopefully it’s a very successful one,” Preece said.

A.J. Allmendinger Texas garage 2018
Ryan Preece will drive for JTG Daugherty in 2019. Photo: Dominic Aragon/TRE

Other drivers have taken notice, and decided to take their own leaps of faith.

MENCS regular Matt DiBenedetto left his ride with his friends at GoFas Racing in September, with aspirations of moving up in the series but with no back up plan.

One month later, he signed on with Leavine Family Racing for the 2019 season, with Toyota Racing Development support, which has the potential to be a major upgrade from his previous rides at the top level.

“Next year should definitely be, performance-wise, my best performance thus far in the Cup Series,” DiBenedetto said to The Racing Experts. “They are a great team, doing a lot of great things with switching to Toyota and JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), so next year definitely should be my best year to date.”

Matt DiBenedetto
Matt DiBenedetto will find a new home at Leavine Family Racing in 2019. Photo: Dominic Aragon/TRE

Ross Chastain, who was Preece’s teammate in 2016, decided on taking a three race chance with Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Camaro later in the 2018 season.

Chastain was already in position to make the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs on points, and DC Solar CEO and Co-Founder Jeff Carpoff took notice, as he put his company on the car for all three races.

In those three races, Chastain led the most laps and won two stages at Darlington Raceway, led the most laps and won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and finished second at Richmond Raceway after starting from the rear of the field.

Clearly, that was enough for Ganassi and Carpoff to put together a full time effort for the former driver of the JD Motorsports No. 4 Camaro.

Ross Chastain
Ross Chastain moves to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2019. Photo: Dante Ricci/TRE

Meanwhile, there are still drivers who enter the offseason without a ride, including the newest champion of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS), Brett Moffitt.

Moffitt said that even with the title, he has nothing planned as of yet for the upcoming season. Regardless, he still has hopes of competing and succeeding at the highest level.

“I’m confident in my ability,” Moffitt told The Racing Experts after winning his first NASCAR Championship. “I’m confident that if I get the right opportunity, that I can go win Xfinity Series Championships and Cup Championships.

In 2015, Moffitt raced in the Cup Series with Michael Waltrip Racing after Brian Vickers was sidelined with health issues, and continued the season after essentially switching seats with David Ragan at Front Row Motorsports. Moffitt ran the majority of the season, and eventually earned the Rookie of the Year title.

“I’ve spent most of my career in non-race-winning equipment,” Moffitt said. “As soon as I got in race winning equipment, with Scott (Zipadelli) and Shiggy (Hattori), we won a championship.

“I’m 100 percent confident in my ability, I just need the right opportunity.”

Brett Moffitt is the newest NCWTS Champion, but has no set plans for 2019. Photo: Dante Ricci/TRE

It seems like there is a shift taking place, where in recent years, it’s been an absolute necessity to bring sponsorship and cash to an organization to have a car to drive.

Now it seems like more drivers who don’t have that luxury are more comfortable in taking chances on themselves.

That still doesn’t mean that everyone is going to get that big break, and even if they do, it doesn’t guarantee future successes.

“I think something that needs to be brought up is that not everybody can do it,” Preece said. “Ross did it because he was capable of doing it. Not every driver that is out here is capable of doing what him and I have done, or even what Matt DiBenedetto can do.

“Just because you run at this level doesn’t mean you have a resume or are qualified to do it. If you are a racer and you are successful, and you’ve won a lot of races, you will figure a way out how to make it.”

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for

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