HAMPTON, Ga. – Brett Moffitt knew a few things going into the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500: he had a lot to learn about Atlanta, a lot to learn during the race and it was the only certain Sprint Cup Series race on his 2015 schedule.
He had no idea, however, as much as he hoped, that he would be leaving with a top-10 finish a few headlines. Except Moffitt did wheel the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota to an eighth place finish while substituting for Brian Vickers, who returns next weekend in Las Vegas. The “unbelievable” moment wasn’t lost on the 22-year-old who tried his best to contain his emotions afterward.
“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 said, in the midst of receiving congratulations. ‘The way it all worked out – we went a lap down early and these guys kept fighting and we had a lucky caution there that caution came out just before we went another lap down during the green flag pit stops.
“So that actually had us restarting third and spun the tires there and luckily we were able to get them back on the last restart.”
Upon climbing from the machine on pit road, Moffitt was engulfed by members of his Michael Waltrip Racing team. Between his huge smile, Ty Norris’s big hug and then the numerous high fives and shoulder grabs from the team or those passing by, it would have been easy to get lost in the moment.
The youngster though, never lost his composure as he recounted over and over how he made his run to the front. Before Sunday in his previous seven Sprint Cup starts, all coming a year ago, he had just one top-25 finish, which was his debut at Dover. In Atlanta, Moffitt started 22nd but steadily found comfortable inside the top-15.
Like many, his car struggled off restarts and with fresh tires but once it got wound up he was able to make ground. Twice on Sunday he went a lap down and received the Lucky Dog award while nearly losing a lap a third time on the Lap 299 as he was coming off pit road following his final stop.
NASCAR deemed he was ahead of leader Jimmie Johnson and he restarted third with less than 25 circuits remaining. Going into the event, Moffitt admitted a top-10 might have been a long shot, but he was comfortable with the car and confident in the lap averages it showed during practice.
Heading into the final two restarts, Moffitt didn’t let his mind take over. He didn’t want to overthink it, but he didn’t want to make a mistake that would severely cost him. After initially losing ground to the leaders, he fought his way back to eighth.
“Those guys can make those mistakes going for the wins and I can’t. Especially being this is my one race this year that I know for sure that I get the opportunity to be in a good car, good equipment,” Moffitt said. “You got to be carefully aggressive. I was comfortable restarting on the outside so when we got that last restart, and we were able to start on the outside I knew we’d be able to hang in there so it was good.”
Moffitt gives up the seat as full-time driver Vickers returns from being sidelined because of lingering health issues. As much as it hurts to have to go back to watching from afar, Moffitt’s confident that something will come along.
A run like Sunday would make it hard for the offers not to come rolling in.
“I want to be in a car the whole year; that’s the goal. These guys did an awesome job. I know Brian’s going to continue to do well the rest of the season, and I just can’t say enough for this group at Michael Waltrip Racing,” he said. “Whether it’s the pit crew, the crew chief, all the people on the team. They’ve always had my back since 2011 keeping me employed and keeping me in a car so this is amazing.”
The job @Brett_Moffitt did today was amazing.
— Mark Martin (@markmartin) March 2, 2015
Congrats @Brett_Moffitt on a solid run today! Looks like test drivers can get in there and make it happen.
— Drew Herring (@Drew_Herring) March 2, 2015
— Brian Scott (@bscottracing) March 1, 2015
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