Preece edges Benjamin for US Cellular 250 checkers

AP PHOTO • Ryan Preece (20) edges Kyle Benjamin (18) at the finish line as he wins the NASCAR Xfinity Series US Cellular 250 auto race Saturday at Iowa Speedway in Newton.

AP PHOTO • Ryan Preece (20) edges Kyle Benjamin (18) at the finish line as he wins the NASCAR Xfinity Series US Cellular 250 auto race Saturday at Iowa Speedway in Newton.

NEWTON — Ryan Preece had waited his whole career for a chance to race in a car as strong as the No. 20 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Preece then went out and proved what he could do with top-notch equipment.

The 26-year-old Preece survived a green-white-checkered finish to win the NASCAR Xfinity race Saturday at Iowa Speedway for his first career victory.

Preece, running the second of a two-race deal with the powerhouse JGR team, started from the pole and held off Kyle Benjamin on three restarts in the final 17 laps.

Preece, the Connecticut driver who is a regular in the lower-division NASCAR Whelen Modified series, crossed the start-finish line less than a car-length ahead of Benjamin.

“To be honest with you, I believed in myself enough to do it,” Preece said of using his Xfinity budget for just two races. “It is very risky. I had multiple people in the business tell me that it was a little (riskier) than they would do.”

The 19-year-old Benjamin was a career-best second, followed by Brian Scott, Brennan Poole and rookie Cole Custer.

William Byron, who began a streak of three wins in five races at Iowa last month, finished ninth and Justin Allgaier was 20th after leading 106 laps.

Preece finished 17th in the series a year ago, with only one top-10 in 33 starts.

For this season, Preece went back to the Modified series — where he won a title four years ago — while striking a deal with JGR to run twice in one of the best cars in the series.

Preece was second to Cup star Kyle Busch in New Hampshire in his first shot with the No. 20 car.

On Saturday, he held off Benjamin to make his season-long gamble pay off.

“I knew what I felt like I had to do to get attention, to make noise, and I felt like these two races were my shot,” Preece said.

It was an encouraging finish for Benjamin, who started on the front row for the fourth time in as many races but finished above 16th for the first time.

“I’m really happy to finish second — I really needed that,” Benjamin said. “But to be as close as we were to winning, it kind of hurts. It makes you think about what you could have done better.

It was another gamble, by Allgaier earlier in the race, which helped put Preece and Benjamin in position for their thrilling finish.

Allgaier won the second stage and was leading when he decided to stay out on a caution about 75 laps from the finish.

The rest of the contenders went in for fresh tires and Allgaier’s No. 7 car, on old tires, quickly fell back while Preece grabbed the lead.

The hope for Allgaier was that a caution would allow him to put on a new set of tires, and thus have the advantage for the finish.

The yellow flag came too late though, as Allgaier was forced to pit for fuel just a few laps before Sam Hornish Jr. drew a caution.

Preece, who spent much of the race battling Allgaier for first, led 141 laps.

US Cellular 250

At Iowa Speedway, Newton

(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (1) Ryan Preece, Toyota, 254

2. (2) Kyle Benjamin, Toyota, 254

3. (11) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 254

4. (8) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 254

5. (5) Cole Custer, Ford, 254

6. (28) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 254

7. (3) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 254

8. (7) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 254

9. (17) William Byron, Chevrolet, 254

10. (19) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 254

11. (21) Brett Moffitt, Chevrolet, 254

12. (6) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 254

13. (16) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 254

14. (25) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 254

15. (26) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 254

16. (9) Ty Majeski, Ford, 254

17. (20) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 254

18. (22) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 254

19. (10) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 253

20. (14) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 252

21. (18) Ryan Reed, Ford, 252

22. (31) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 252

23. (13) Ben Kennedy, Chevrolet, 251

24. (30) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 249

25. (32) Dylan Lupton, Toyota, 249

26. (36) David Starr, Chevrolet, 249

27. (35) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 249

28. (27) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 249

29. (38) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 248

30. (37) Ray Black II, Chevrolet, 247

31. (40) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 243

32. (39) Stan Mullis, Chevrolet, 241

33. (23) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 233

34. (4) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 229

35. (34) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 218

36. (15) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 218

37. (12) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 170

38. (33) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, 46

39. (29) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 9

40. (24) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, Vibration, 3

——

Average Speed of Winner: 96.9 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 17 Mins, 37 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.054 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 40 laps.

Lead Changes: 4 among 4 drivers.

Lap Leaders: R. Preece 1-63; K. Benjamin 64-68; E. Sadler 69-70; J. Allgaier 71-176; R. Preece 177-254. L eaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): R. Preece 2 times for 141 laps; J. Allgaier 1 time for 106 laps; K. Benjamin 1 time for 5 laps; E. Sadler 1 time for 2 laps.