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Traditionally, NASCAR teams have not relied on true "backup" drivers in the event that one of their drivers cannot compete in a given race. But the past two seasons have forced the sport to adapt, and Stewart-Haas Racing has secured the services of a top free agent to step behind the wheel in case he is needed.

On Thursday, Stewart-Haas Racing announced that they have hired Ryan Preece to serve as the team's reserve driver for the 2022 season. Preece, a Berlin, Conn. native entering his fourth season in Cup, will be the default driver in the event that any of Stewart-Haas' four drivers -- Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Chase Briscoe and Cole Custer -- are unable to compete in a race due to COVID, injury, or any other unforeseen circumstance.

"Ryan is a versatile wheelman with a racer's mentality who fits extremely well within our culture at Stewart-Haas Racing," Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing, said in a team release. "Between the amount of testing and development work we're doing with the NextGen car this year, his added insights and time in the simulator will make us better by allowing us to learn faster.

"Plus, we're still dealing with COVID. As much as we all want it to be over, it's not. We needed a more robust plan in the event COVID sidelines one of our drivers. We have that now with Ryan."

Preece will also perform simulator work for the team and is guaranteed to run 12 races across NASCAR's three national series. He will race for Rick Ware Racing in the Cup Series at Dover and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in Cup, Richmond, Charlotte, and Nashville in the Xfinity Series, and Las Vegas, Atlanta, Darlington, Texas, Nashville, Pocono and Kansas in the Camping World Truck Series. Preece's Truck starts will come with David Gilliland Racing, while his Cup and Xfinity starts will be coordinated through SHR and its technical alliance partners.

"This is a unique setup, but I feel like it provides me with the best opportunity to win races and contribute to a championship-caliber team while expanding my racing experience," Preece said. "I'm a racer, and Stewart-Haas Racing is a team built by racers. They measure success by wins. Whether I'm in the simulator, in one of their cars, or in a Ford Mustang or Ford F-150 for another team, I'm here to help SHR and Ford win."

Preece, who made his way through the ranks as a Champion of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, had spent the past three seasons racing full-time in the Cup Series for JTG Daughtery Racing. Preece scored two Top 5s and nine Top 10s with a best finish of third at Talladega, but was left without a ride for 2022 when JTG Daugherty downscaled from two to one car.

When he does take to the track, Preece is likely to be very competitive: Last June, Preece made his Truck Series debut driving for David Gilliland Racing at Nashville, and he proceeded to pick up the win after taking the lead with seven laps to go. Preece also has two career wins in the Xfinity Series.