Preston Pardus returns to DGM Racing for Daytona road course race

For the first time in his brief NASCAR career, Preston Pardus will get to sleep in his own bed the night before a race.

That’s assuming he can sleep, given that he’s understandably itching to get back behind the wheel on his home track at Daytona International Speedway. He’s coming off his second consecutive career-best Xfinity Series outing, having finished eighth last Saturday at Road America.

Pardus ran out front for five laps in the Henry 180, and was the leader when the field took the green flag for the final time with two laps to go. He’s hoping to better that outing this Saturday in the UNOH 188 on Daytona’s road course.

Daytona’s layout is one on which Pardus has amassed extensive seat time in SCCA-sanctioned events. In fact, he won the Spec Miata class at an SCCA regional held on the track Aug. 1, and he’s one of the few drivers in the UNOH 188 field who has tackled the 3.61-mile road course. Given that NASCAR won’t have practice or qualifying for the event, Pardus expects to do well from the get-go.

“It’s going to be good,” said the 23-year-old driver, who has two top-10 finishes in both of his Xfinity starts this year. “The first few laps, when you have to learn a track on the fly with no practice, those guys from the bigger teams have to make that first stage sort of a practice session. We do, too, in a way, but at the same time I feel like we can push a little more because of my Spec Miata experience at Daytona.”

The 14-turn Daytona layout uses both straightaways and all four corners of the 2.5-mile oval typically raced on by NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoor series. But the layout for this weekend’s Xfinity/Cup doubleheader includes a dogleg, a horseshoe and two chicanes to further challenge the drivers, in addition to the other turns.

“There are a ton of SCCA regionals there,” Pardus said. “We go about twice a year with the Spec Miata, so I have quite a bit of seat time doing that. I’ve also run ChumpCar — an endurance series for grass-roots racing people — there with a couple of guys in a 14-hour race.”

Crew chief Tony Furr noted that while there’s a massive difference between the Spec Miata and the No. 36 Danus Utilities/Chinchor Electric Chevrolet, the challenge doesn’t seem to faze Pardus.

“He has adapted really well from that car to this style of car,” Furr said. “His rhythm style of driving the Miata has really helped him a lot.

“He’s gaining a ton of confidence every week. I could tell a big difference from the 10th-place finish at Indy a month ago to how he raced at Road America. He believes now that he belongs here with these guys who have raced these full-size stock cars all their lives. At Road America, you could tell his mindset was ‘I’m gonna get all I can get with what I’ve got’ — and he did.”

Pardus’ march to the lead at Road America was even more impressive given that he started 37th, dead last, in the field. Lightning forced red-flag conditions early in the event, and heavy rain that followed forced teams to swap racing slicks for grooved Goodyear rain tires as quickly as possible when action resumed.

Pardus took the lead on lap 14, then raced in the top five for an extensive portion of the race. A pit stop late in the second stage cost him track position, but it later gave him the opportunity to be out front again in the race’s final minutes.

Most of the front-running, well-funded teams pitted for new tires during a late-race caution while Furr chose to leave Pardus on-track. That decision left Pardus out front for four laps, but on the race’s final green flag, he was quickly gobbled up by eventual race winner Austin Cindric, whose car was shod with fresh rubber.

“We had nothing to lose,” Pardus said. “If we had pitted with everyone else and thrown stickers on there, with that few laps left, I don’t know that we’d have been able to run in the top 10, so that was a good call by Tony.

“I was pretty conservative trying to get the best finish I possibly could. It’s a fine edge because you’re trying to stay ahead of everyone, but you also have to let people go in a way instead of racing them. You’re trying to minimize the damage, basically; stop the bleeding when you get passed by those cars.”

“We did the best we could do with what we had,” Furr said. “Preston did a really good job to hang in there with them. There’s a lot of experience and money up there. We’re not really supposed to be up there in the top 10, but we’ve done it the last two races.

“I told him after the race was over that he did a heck of a job. ‘You ain’t supposed to be up there against those big-money teams, but you took advantage of the situation.’ I’m just proud of him. With his amount of experience, it’s unheard of.”

— DGM Racing —