The journey of Brett Moffitt

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was a gala evening in the Charlotte Convention Center, for the NASCAR world. Everyone dressed in their best formal wear, the spirits were flowing and the atmosphere was joyous. Inside the Crown Ball Room, the championship truck of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series laid under banners of the Championship 4 in the series. The party commenced.

For Moffitt, it was the culmination of his journey from rising prospect in the K&N Series that was thrust into a forgettable rookie season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, to Truck Series champion.

During his time in the K&N Pro Series East, he won nine races and finished Top-three in points each season.

This turned into a test driver gig with Michael Waltrip Racing, who called him up to fill in for the injured Brian Vickers in 2015 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He led one lap and finished eighth.

Unfortunately, that was the height of his rookie season. In his 30 other starts in the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing and the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, he amassed an average finish of 30.5, and finished no higher than 17th.

And as happens too often with talented drivers thrust into the Cup Series too soon, he became damaged goods. For the next two years, he ran two one-off races in the XFINITY Grand National Series and the Cup Series.

It was his limited starts in the Truck Series in 2017 where he demonstrated that he was still a talented driver, deserving of a full-time ride, with a win at Michigan International Speedway.

While he wasn’t offered a full-time ride, a four-race opportunity came in the form of Hattori Racing Enterprises, for whom he raced for in K&N in 2013. It eventually turned into more.

“At the beginning of 2018 when Ryan (Truex) left, it was just kind of a surprise to us,” Scott Zippadeli, crew chief of the No. 16 Toyota, said. “Obviously the first person I thought of was Brett. There was a short list and it had one person on it, and it was him. I felt like with our chemistry and our history in the past, if he could get in our truck, we could go a 10 for wins. We have a chemistry that’s we’ve been able to just make it happen. Even when we have a pit road penalty or a bad pit stop, we’re able to execute the rest of the race and recover for it. Once we decided to do the first four races, it was then just keep kicking the ball a little bit farther down the road to the next race and the next race and the next race.”

The season started with a wreck at Daytona, but Moffitt rebounded with a win the following week at Atlanta.

He was third in points after nine races, and earned his second victory at Iowa Speedway. But he shocked everyone post race when he said that the team might not enter the race at Chicagoland Speedway, due to lack of sponsorship.

“We literally had times that we didn’t know if we were gonna go to the race track or not, and I think it stressed everyone out to the max on the race team, including Scott and myself and my family and Shige (Hattori, team owner) and everyone else, ’cause we all knew that we had something special,” Moffitt said. “If we were a mediocre race team without being locked into the chase, and without being what we thought was a chance to win a championship, if we would’ve missed a race it would’ve been nothing. But the fact that we knew we had something special, and to be faced with adversity, and the thought of missing a race was hard for all of us.”

Luckily, FR8Auctions.com stepped in and sponsored him for Chicago, and he took advantage of John Hunter Nemechek running out of gas on the final lap to win.

He clinched a spot in the Championship 4, with a victory at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, and won the series title the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The reality of being champion didn’t hit him, until the banquet.

“Homestead, it was just another race win, and the way we had to work this year, it was accomplish one mission and go after the next, and we proved that at Phoenix,” he said. “When we could have been celebrating, we went straight back to work. Then again, at Homestead, it’s still the mission of if you’re a competitor you focus on the next thing, and for us that was next year, but we have trouble switching to that off switch of, okay, sit back and relax and enjoy this now. I think Scott and I both just as competitors were always focused on what’s next, and that’s all we’re concerned about.”

The awards banquet provided a temporary distraction from the uncertainty that Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt faces in 2019.

Earlier this week, Hattori Racing Enterprises announced that Moffitt wouldn’t return to the No. 16 Toyota Tundra in the Truck Series, in favor of an undisclosed driver that’s bringing sponsorship.

And is it frustrating to him that this is the reality of the sport, more often than not?

“Hell yeah. It’s extremely frustrating,” Moffitt said. “It’s the climate that we’re at right now, though.”

Moffitt didn’t let it bother him during the banquet, or did an excellent job of hiding it. He smiled, conversed, drank and joined team owner, Shigeaki Hattori and Zippadeli at the head table on stage.

“Regardless of my job situation or anything else, it was all about celebrating what we accomplished,” Moffitt said. “And it was this group of guys who I not only worked with, but I’m really good friends with. Scott and I have been friends for a lot of years, and a lot of the guys on the crew I’ve been friends with off and on throughout the years. There’s nothing that’s going to distract me from having a good time with these guys and celebrating with these guys, ’cause I know what all they gave into having this year.”

What the future holds for Moffitt is unknown. He thinks the championship might make him a hot commodity, but “it doesn’t solve all the issues (sponsorship) and I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“As far as next year, I would hope being a champion is gonna add value to my name, but I just don’t know,” he added. “So, really all I can touch on after this whole week is how hard these guys worked and how much they mean to me as not only companions of the sport but as friends and family.”

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My name is Tucker White. I'm currently majoring in journalism at the University of Tennessee. I started getting into NASCAR around 1998 and started following the sport full-time in 2001. I live and breathe everything related to NASCAR. I also have a burning passion for all things auto racing. I've been following Formula 1 since 2011 and am slowing getting into IndyCar. I do my best to keep up with the World Endurance Championship. But at the end of the day, NASCAR is my primary beat. Being both a native of Knoxville, Tennessee and a student at UT, I'm naturally a die-hard Tennessee Volunteers fan. Especially when it comes to Tennessee Volunteers football. While I'll never stop being one, it can be the most heart-wrenching thing ever. Since 2005, this team has delivered more than its fair share of heartbreaking moments and inhuman frustration. I've stuck with the Vols from the best of times - 1998 National Champions - to the worst of times - 2005 to present - because I know that it'll make it all so worth it when the mighty Vols finally return to the top of the college football landscape. In the last few years, I started to really get into baseball. This past season, I decided to pledge my sporting allegiance to the Atlanta Braves. It didn't turn out too well as they finished 67-95 and finished fourth in the NL East. I do see great potential with the young roster and they might be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

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