By Bill Haglund
Special to DCN
Brett Moffitt got a pat on the back from his boss two weeks ago.
When that “boss” is former Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, it’s a pretty good sign that you’ve more than lived up to expectations.
Moffitt, a 21-year-old from Grimes, raced to a 22nd place finish on June 8 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway in his first-ever race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That solid showing has earned Moffitt another chance behind the wheel of the No. 66 Toyota, co-owned by Jay Robinson Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.
That will come this Sunday (June 15) at Michigan International Speedway.
“Our No. 66 team was originally scheduled to run some new components at Michigan with Jeff (Burton), but those plans were delayed last week, causing us to debate running Michigan at all,” Michael Waltrip said in a statement released by the team. “However, after the great effort we saw with Brett in his debut at Dover, we decided to move forward with Michigan, allowing Brett more seat time and to work toward his NASCAR eligibility to race on bigger tracks.
“Brett did an amazing job in Dover, not only to gain experience, but more importantly (in) respect from the other competitors.”
Moffitt started the Dover race in the 18th spot and drove a steady race to finish 22nd. He drew some praise from many of the top NASCAR drivers after his flawless race, during which he kept his race car out of harm’s way and out of the way of the veteran drivers. Moffitt’s finish was better than those posted by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in their first Sprint Cup races.
Moffitt, who had competed fulltime in the NASCAR K&N East Series during the past three years, was left without a ride this season.
He’d been spending his time as a test driver for Michael Waltrip Racing this year, but was finding things tough without being able to race regularly.
Michigan is a track that is a stepping-stone along NASCAR’s path, which, Moffitt hopes, will one day end with a fulltime ride at places like Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and other superspeedways around the nation. Originally, veteran Jeff Burton had been scheduled to drive the car at Michigan.
Moffitt, who began racing on dirt tracks around Iowa and the Midwest as a 13-year-old, winning more than his share of those modified events, was elated to learn he’d drive at Michigan.
“It seems like this is all happening very fast, but I feel like we have been working towards this kind of opportunity for a long time,” said Moffitt, who has nine career victories in the in K&N Pro Series East. “At Dover, we set some goals and I feel like we accomplished all of them and exceeded most of them. Heading to Michigan our goals will be much of the same. I want to get comfortable and I want the greatest drivers in the world to be comfortable around me.”
A year ago, Moffitt, who drove the Hattori Toyota in the K&N East Series, was one of a dozen drivers named to the “NASCAR Next” group, all of them young drivers tabbed by NASCAR$ as the stars of the future.
Moffitt raced go-karts before he began racing modifieds when he was just 13. A couple years later he won the 360 Modified feature during the prestigious Harris Classic at Knoxville Raceway, an effort that caused some post-race concern.
Hall of Fame Promoter Ralph “Cappi” Capitani approached Moffitt after the race.
“Nice job,” Capitani told the 15-year-old driver. “How old are you?”
“I’m 15,” Moffitt told Capitani.
“Well, you have to be 18 to race on this track,” Capitani said.
As he walked away, however, Capitani turned to Moffitt, winked, and said, “Nice job out there.”
Moffitt has moved to North Carolina to be near the Michael Waltrip Racing shop.
He’s hoping his increased time behind the wheel will lead to a fulltime ride in NASCAR’s elite division sooner, not later. If it happens, Moffitt will be on his way to fulfilling his lifetime dream.
“I want to be the best driver who ever lived,” he said last year at Iowa Speedway.