Brett Moffitt wins Homestead Truck race and title
In a battle between the titans in the quest for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title on Friday night, it was the little team that could that stood above the rest when the checkered flag waved.
26-year-old Brett Moffitt, a journeyman driver who had driven for over half a dozen teams in his seven-year career, beat out Noah Gragson to claim the Truck Series crown with a win in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Driving a Toyota Tundra owned by former IndyCar driver Shigeaki Hattori, Moffitt led the final 30 laps to win the race over Grant Enfinger and Gragson, collecting his sixth victory of the season and his first-career NASCAR title.
"That was the longest 20-30 laps of my life. Man, I’m glad we could get to the white flag there without a caution and have clean sailing. We had a great Toyota Tundra all day.
"I just got the tires a little too hot when I was trying to get inside of (Gragson) the first time. I didn’t probably commit hard enough to the move and then I kind of let my tires cool down and ran the top to try to get to him and he was kind of backing up and we could still run the bottom really well which is unusual for Homestead, but I’ll take it."
Gragson roared back and led from the start of the final stage and held point until Moffitt tracked him and down powered past for the lead with 34 laps to go.
After losing the top spot, Gragson came to pit road for his final stop. When Moffitt gave up the lead to make his final stop two laps later, Moffitt’s team pulled off a perfect stop and got him back out on the track in front of both Gragson and Enfinger.
From there, Moffitt hit his marks perfectly and easily outdistanced Enfinger to the finish by two seconds, while Gragson came home third move than five seconds back - and second in the championship battle.
Gragson, who will move up to the Xfinity Series full time in 2019, was visibly disappointed to not be able to end his Truck Series career with a title.
"We were just tight there. We needed to make better adjustments on pit road. That’s where it comes down to me. I need to do a better job," said Gragson. "On the bright side, racing for a championship, I never would have dreamed of that when I started racing six years ago that I’d be in this position.
"I wanted to go out on top, but it just wasn’t meant to be."
Stewart Friesen finished fourth in the race, followed by Sheldon Creed. Championship 4 driver Justin Haley finished eighth, while championship contender Johnny Sauter ended up 12th.
Since making his NASCAR major touring series debut in the Xfinity Series in 2012, Moffitt has gone onto make over 80 starts in the Truck, Xfinity and Cup Series – driving for teams such as Michael Waltrip Racing, Front Row Motorsports and BK Racing.
His best season came in 2015, where he ran 31 races for Waltrip and FRM, finishing 34th in points and winning the 2015 Cup Series Rookie of the Year.
Since then, Moffitt had run in just a handful of races, mostly as a fill-in driver, before landing a full-time ride with HRE for the 2018 season.
"It’s been a lot of hell and a lot of glory," said Moffitt. "I've been through a lot of ups and downs in my career, a lot of times I'm unemployed, and I'd say I've been through it enough times that now I'm going to save my money. 2015 I was rich, 2016 I was broke. Hopefully I'm a little smarter this go‑around."
Moffitt’s title-winning run was made even more remarkable by the fact that Hattori Racing Enterprises almost missed the race at Chicagoland Speedway in June which would have made Moffitt ineligible for the Truck Series playoffs. HRE was able to line up a sponsor at the last minute, and Moffitt went on to win the race.
The team struggled to find sponsorship all season long – entering the seven-race Truck Series playoffs needing sponsorship for two races, and managed to put together 11th-hour deals that allowed them to keep going.
And for Shigeaki Hattori, it finally paid off – after 10 years of trying.
"It takes a long time, since I started my own team," said Hattori. "It was 2008. I mentioned Brett, we missed K&N championship it was in 2012, and we were leading the last lap, and then we missed it. But today, yeah, we did it.
"It’s unreal," Moffitt said of the team’s struggles. "We all know the story by now where we didn’t know if we were going to race the full year. I didn’t know if I was going to have the opportunity to compete for a championship even after we got our first win. Everyone pulled together hard here.
"Back at Chicago we didn’t know if we were going to make it to the race track and Marcus (Barela) with Fr8Auctions stepped us and got us there. We’ve had many partners like that and iRacing all year long that came in at clutch moments and got us to the race track when we needed to."
Friday’s championship might end up bittersweet, though, as Hattori has not yet said whether he was committed to running a full season in 2019.
So, after winning his first NASCAR title, Moffitt might already be looking for a job for 2019.
"I'm still not guaranteed a job next year, but at least I can say that I won (the title)," said Moffitt. "I put pressure on myself to win it so that no matter what happens in the future, at least I can say I won it."
BRETT MOFFITT, No. 16 AISIN Group Toyota Tundra, Hattori Racing Enterprises
Finishing Position: 1st
Talk about your battle with Noah Gragson for the lead and what made the difference at the end.
"(Crew chief Scott) "Zippy" (Zipadelli) and everybody at HRE (Hattori Racing Enterprises) gave me a really fast Tundra and I think we made the bottom work a hell of a lot better than anybody, so that gave me the opportunity to get down there, but doing that it’s really harsh on the tires. I knew we were faster than him. It was just about getting him and getting momentum off (Turn) 2 and being able to dive bomb into (Turn) 3. The first attempt I did at it, I just wasn’t aggressive enough and got the tires hot and had to go back up to the top and cool them down a few laps and then make another charge. I just can’t speak enough about everybody on this race team and how hard they work. Our pit crew tonight did an amazing job. Man, those were a long last 20 laps."
What does it say about this team to go from questioning you can race all 23 races to being the champion of the Truck Series?
"It just speaks to our people and how badass everybody on this race team is. They do a hell of a job no matter what’s going on whether we have troubles or not, they keep working and keep preparing to go to the race track week in or week out whether they know we’re going or not and that just says a lot."
How did you reflect back on your life growing up racing go karts, to the Cup Series and now being a NASCAR champion?
"It’s been a lot of hell and a lot of glory. My dad is my rock. He never came from racing, so more so than anything he’s just supported me and my personal life. He’s battled through a lot in his career and he’s the one that gives me the never give up spirit. Seeing what he’s gone through in life and knowing that what he’s saying is true and to keep persevering, it means a lot. As I get older, I respect it more and more. When I was young, I probably took advantage of it, but it means a lot to share these moments with him. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way."
Talk about adapting to these race trucks and getting the truck championship in so few series starts.
"I blame my Cup career really for being so good in the trucks early on. When I was Cup racing, I really wasn’t developed and I had to learn really quick and really the hard way essentially. Coming to these race tracks in a truck, it’s a little bit easier. Everything is a little bit calmer. You’re normally not fighting as many handling characteristics as the Cup cars. In the Cup Series, you’re racing the 40 best guys in the world. I think it helped my learning curve. It wasn’t the ideal way to do it, but these trucks are just a little bit easier for me to adapt to."
What was that last run like for you?
"That was the longest 20-30 laps of my life. Man, I’m glad we could get to the white flag there without a caution and have clean sailing. We had a great Toyota Tundra all day. I just got to thank AISIN and (team owner Shigeaki) "Shige" (Hattori), TRD, everybody at TRD and how hard they worked for us this last month. They’ve given us everything possible to make these things fast and tonight we were able to win the race and win the championship."
How do you explain all of this – this underfunded, small team?
"It’s unreal. We all know the story by now where we didn’t know if we were going to race the full year. I didn’t know if I was going to have the opportunity to compete for a championship even after we got our first win. Everyone pulled together hard here. Back at Chicago we didn’t know if we were going to make it to the race track and Marcus (Barela) with Fr8Auctions stepped us and got us there. We’ve had many partners like that and iRacing all year long that came in at clutch moments and got us to the race track when we needed to."
How did the battle with Noah Gragson happen?
"I just got the tires a little too hot when I was trying to get inside of him the first time. I didn’t probably commit hard enough to the move and then I kind of let my tires cool down and ran the top to try to get to him and he was kind of backing up and we could still run the bottom really well which is unusual for Homestead, but I’ll take it."
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