Brett Moffitt, 22-year-old race car driver from Grimes, made the best of an opportunity Sunday when he raced to an eighth-place finish in the Folds of Honor Qwik Trip 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Moffitt drove the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota in the event at one of NASCAR’s fastest super speedways, finishing on the lead lap and actually leading for a lap during a caution period.
It was only Moffitt’s eighth Sprint Cup Series start and he was able to hold off former NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski over the last several laps to hold onto the eighth spot in the race. It was Moffitt’s best finish in his few races behind the wheel of an MWR Toyota over the past two years.
Moffitt’s chance to drive Sunday came in what is expected to be the final missed race for Brian Vickers, the regular driver of the No. 55, who is still recovering from a December heart surgery. Waltrip himself drove the car in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Moffitt’s run Sunday was an eye-opener for a number of veteran NASCAR observers and drew praise from Darrell Waltrip, Michael’s older brother, one of the announcers for Sunday’s nationally-televised race, which was won by Jimmie Johnson.
Moffitt, red-faced and teary-eyed as he climbed from the car after the grueling run, was quoted as saying, "I’m trying not to cry right now. Honestly, I was tearing up out there. This is the biggest accomplishment I could have ever done."
Moffitt’s rise through the racing ranks actually began when he began drawing notice as a 13-year-old driving in the Limited Modified division in Central Iowa. He later landed rides with a couple top teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Division and drew even more notice with a couple top finishes when the K&N East and West Series came together for national events at Iowa Speedway in Newton.
Although he signed as a test driver with Michael Waltrip Racing, his previous seven starts – all in 2014 – came at the wheel of a car owned by Jay Robinson Racing. His best finish for Robinson was 22nd at Dover, Del., and his other six starts all resulted in finishes of 34th or poorer.
Moffitt’s career seemed to peak a couple years ago when, as a driver in the K&N Pro Series, he was introduced with the NASCAR Tomorrow group of drivers predicted for future stardom in the sport. While a few of those drivers – among them Chase Elliott and Jeb Burton – have begun to rise through the NASCAR ranks, Moffitt’s career had seeming hit a brick wall.
Then came the call from MWR to drive in Sunday’s race.
Asked his goal two years ago at Iowa Speedway, Moffitt said, "I want to be the best race car driver there ever was."
That lofty goal has been on hold. Sunday, though, he just might have opened some important eyes and turned some important heads.
After the race, Ty Norris, executive vice president at MWR, was quoted: "That (Moffitt’s run) has to be the story of the day. We’ve known it for a long time, and the only difference between him and some other guys is opportunity. There’s always a silver lining in black clouds and when we heard about Brian Vickers’ situation, this gave Brett a great opportunity to come out here. From the first corner of the first lap, I was nervous for him because I really wanted him to showcase his talents.
"What an incredible story, for him to come out here and finish eighth. And how he did it, he went three wide and passed Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne, then held off Brad Keselowski for the last 10 to 12 laps to do it. It wasn’t like he just lucked into it. He earned it and I’m proud of him."
While Moffitt understandably was elated, he was also realistic.
"I wish this (the NASCAR ride) would last another 10 or 12 weeks," he was quoted after Sunday’s race. "I’m sure something will come about and an opportunity will open up, so we’ll see."
Meanwhile, Moffitt will continue as a test driver for MWR, but as Norris said after Sunday’s impressive run, "I hope his (Moffitt’s) phone rings off the hook."
That opportunity could come right where he’s no situated.
MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman was clear that the organization was pleased with its current agreement with Moffitt, but also indicated the organization would like to return to a three-car team and that Moffitt could be that third driver.
Still, Kauffman said he had no desire to "hold Moffitt back" and that the organization would "do everything in its power" to see that Moffitt gets a permanent ride soon in one of NASCAR’s top tier divisions.