Driving a limited schedule in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the 27-year-old Connecticut driver pulled away from teammate Brandon Jones after a restart with 10 laps to go and then held off Justin Allgaier for his second Xfinity Series victory.
It was Preece’s second win at Bristol Motor Speedway after taking the UNOH 200 NASCAR Whelen Modified Series race in 2015. He also won a $100,000 NASCAR Dash 4 Cash bonus from series sponsor Comcast in a race, which had no full-time Cup Series drivers.
"To win here, that's unreal,” Preece said. “It's Bristol, the ‘Last Great Colosseum.’ It's one of those tracks when you grow up as a short-track racer that you want to win at. We unloaded for practice and I was really happy with the race car. We didn't qualify where we I thought we would, but I knew we had a good race car.
"Slowly with track position and patience, we got where we needed to be and the caution fell when we needed it to happen. We got the restart we needed and we made the adjustments to get us out front."
Allgaier finished second in a Chevrolet, but said he didn't have anything for Preece after the front splitter on his car broke by getting into the back of Matt Tifft's car earlier in the race.
"We had a better car if the splitter would have been on it," Allgaier said. "I made a mistake and unfortunately it cost us a chance to be in victory lane."
Daniel Hemric finished third in a Chevrolet after leading 61 laps. His car failed post-race inspection and he will be replaced in the next Dash 4 Cash race at Richmond by Jones. Elliott Sadler and Spencer Gallagher in Chevrolets rounded out the top five.
"Earlier in the race, our short-run speed was good," Hemric said. "The cautions were bailing us out early in the race, but the second stage, I got a little high and Preece got by us. I just kept trying to keep track position and put us in a position to win. I didn't have the speed on the longer runs, but I could take off on the short runs."
Jones, who led a race-high 106 laps, finished sixth after his team opted to take just two tires on the final pit stop. Tyler Reddick in a Chevrolet, Cole Custer in a Ford, and Chevrolet drivers Ross Chastain and Ryan Truex rounded out the top 10.
"That caution that came out at the end of that long run just killed me," Jones said. "I just put my head down when I saw it. I knew we were so much better than the 18 coming off the corner. But, all and all, it was a phenomenal day for the people at JGR. We are just so close right now. It just broke my heart to see that final caution."
It didn't take long for the action to heat up with a nine-car crash on lap 6. Kaz Grala hit the back of Chase Briscoe's car, triggering the melee on the frontstretch — which eliminated three cars from contention and put Christopher Bell's Toyota into the wall and at the back of the field.
Bell cycled back up front after pit stops and gained the lead on lap 56 to win Stage 1 of the race. However, Bell's good fortune came to an end in Stage 2 when he spun his car to try to avoid the cars of Vinnie Miller and Cody Ware and hit both cars in the process.
RUBBING IS RACING
The race featured aggressive driving, which led to 12 cautions, just two off the track record of 14 set in April 1990 and tied in August 1993.
Elliott Sadler showed his displeasure with John Hunter Nemechek's driving after the two got into each other midway through the race. Sadler, who retaliated by bumping Nemechek's car during a caution period, gave his version of why he was so unhappy.
"He ran over the back of us," Sadler said. "He does that in the Truck Series. That's OK because I don't run the Truck Series. You can't do that here in the Xfinity Series. We fight back."
Cole Custer won the pole with a lap of 15.090 seconds (127.157 mph) in the No. 00 Ford. Allgaier qualified second at 126.913 miles per hour, followed by Bell at 126.704 mph. There were 41 drivers who attempted to qualify for the 40-car field. Morgan Shepherd, the 76-year-old veteran with 426 career starts, was the only driver who failed to qualify.