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NASCAR: Ryan Preece to take over for Cole Custer at Stewart-Haas Racing

Ryan Preece is back in the NASCAR Cup Series full-time.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that Preece would take over the No. 41 car in 2023. He’ll replace Cole Custer as Custer drops down to the Xfinity Series to run a second car for the team.

Preece, 32, raced part-time across all three of NASCAR”s top three series in 2022 after three seasons in the Cup Series. Preece drove for JTG-Daugherty Racing from 2019-21 and had two top fives and nine top 10s in his time with the team. His best finish was a third at Talladega in the spring of 2019.

He got his break in NASCAR in 2017 after running a full season in the Xfinity Series for a low-budget team. Instead of running another full season in lower-tier equipment, Preece instead ran four Xfinity Series races for Joe Gibbs Racing. He got his first NASCAR win at Iowa in 2017 and finished in the top five in all four of his starts.

He won again at Bristol in 2018 and moved up to the Cup Series the following season.

Preece made two Cup Series starts and three Xfinity Series starts in 2022. He made 10 Truck Series starts and won at Nashville for the second consecutive season. Preece had seven top fives and nine top 10s in those 10 Truck starts.

Custer, 24, moves back down to a series where he has 10 wins. Custer moved up to the Cup Series in 2020 after he had seven wins and finished second in the Xfinity Series standings for the second consecutive season. He won at Kentucky in his rookie season in Cup but things haven’t been very good over the next two seasons.

Custer, the son of SHR executive Joe Custer, finished 16th in the standings as a rookie thanks to that win. He then had just two top-10 finishes in 2021 and was 26th in the standings. He finished 25th in 2022 with just three top 10s. He hasn’t finished in the top five since his rookie season.

Custer’s struggles at SHR also came as the team’s performance dropped off. Kevin Harvick went winless in 2021 after nine wins in 2020. Aric Almirola, Chase Briscoe and Custer all had an average finish worse than 19th in 2021.

Things improved slightly in 2022 with the new Cup Series car. Briscoe made it to the third round of the playoffs and Harvick won twice. But Almirola and Custer each had an average finish outside the top 15. Almirola, Briscoe and Harvick are returning to SHR next season.

Custer will team with Riley Herbst in the Xfinity Series in 2023 and his demotion to the No. 2 series likely removes a potential destination for Hailie Deegan. The 21-year-old Ford driver doesn’t have a ride lined up for 2022 after two mediocre seasons in the Truck Series as David Gilliland Racing Truck Series team is moving to Toyota in 2023. An Xfinity ride could be in the offing despite an average Truck Series finish of 21.4 and just three top 10s in 46 starts, but a second car at SHR was seen as the most likely opportunity.