Grimes' Brett Moffitt wins NASCAR rookie of the year award
Story by Andy Hamilton of The Des Moines Register
Brett Moffitt sat on his couch this time a year ago wondering if he’d have a seat behind a wheel when the green flag dropped on NASCAR’s 2015 season.
He sat Sunday night inside the media center at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the newly minted Sprint Cup rookie of the year, the culmination of an improbable 12-month U-turn for the 23-year-old Grimes native.
Moffitt edged out Matt DiBenedetto and Jeb Burton to put his name on a trophy captured by the likes of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Not bad for a guy whose schedule included just one race when the season began.
He’s the first Iowa-born driver to win NASCAR rookie of the year honors in the 60-year history of the award.
"I'm surrounded by a lot of optimistic people, but I’m kind of a realist,” Moffitt said. “So when I was sitting on my couch last December/October area, I had no clue what I was going to do. I had raced the (K&N) East Series for five years and had one Xfinity start that went well, and I thought that was going to take off to something and it just didn’t.
"I really can’t thank the folks at Michael Waltrip Racing enough – Ty Norris and Michael – for employing me and giving me the opportunity to at least test Cup cars, which is what I was doing (last year), and that led to more opportunities and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
When continued issues with blood clots sidelined Brian Vickers, Waltrip handed Moffitt the keys to his No. 55 Toyota for the March 1 race at Atlanta. The Iowan wheeled the car to an eighth-place finish.
"Atlanta was definitely the highlight of my year,” Moffitt said. “Going into 2015, that was the one race I had on my schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing … and to go out there and finish in eighth place was huge. You know, at the time I didn’t even know what I was doing behind the wheel of a race car, it seemed like.”
Though the performance in Atlanta didn’t count for rookie points – Moffitt had yet to register for the award – it opened new doors for the Iowan. He filled in for Front Row Motorsports in the No. 34 Ford, moved back to the MWR 55 when Vickers’ health issues returned and ultimately moved back to the 34 in May.
"Once we reached a point where I knew I was going to do at least seven races and wouldn’t be eligible in 2016 to run for the rookie of the year, at that point we said, why not sign up for it and hope things work out? And they did,” he said. “And that’s where (owner) Bob (Jenkins) and everyone at Front Row Motorsports kind of made this happen, and they stuck their neck out on the line and hired a rookie. And it paid off.”
It remains to be seen whether the rookie award will help Moffitt’s racing future pick up speed. He said he’s still trying to find a ride for 2016.
"Right now my slate is empty,” he said. “We’re working hard, but it’s hard to secure the funding to be able to run in any of the top three series. If anything would come forward, I’d be more than willing to work with any series, whether it was truck, Xfinity or another Cup ride.”