My Brain on NASCAR: Betting on Brett

cathyLet’s say, just for the sake of argument, that some friends put together a race pool for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1; not that I would ever be interested in anything like that, of course.

As long as we are wildly conjecturing, let’s say one successful participant in this hypothetical race pool could win some cash. Naturally that idea wouldn’t interest me, because it’s gambling and my mother wouldn’t approve.

But what if, by some random coincidence, someone happened to mention that when I was watching the race, it might be worth my while to take a particular interest in the drivers who qualified “on the eights” – eighth, 18th, 28th and so forth?

If I had taken their advice, I would have noted the names of reigning Cup Series champ Kevin Harvick, who qualified second although some trouble during practice forced him to drop to the back of the field at the start of the race, and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, who qualified 12th. These would have elicited murmurs of approval from me, I expect.

On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have been quite so excited about the prospects of the 22nd-place qualifier, a young guy named Brett Moffitt. There might even have been a couple of small groans involved. I’m not saying there were, but there could have been.

By the final laps of the race, however, those groans – OK, they were real – had turned to excited cheers, as Moffitt had raced his No. 55 Aarons60thAnniversaryDreamMachine Toyota, owned by Michael Waltrip Racing, into the top 10, ultimately finishing eighth. His best career Sprint Cup Series finish to that point had been 22nd, at Dover International Speedway in 2014.

It was the MWR 21-year-old test driver’s first Cup Series start for the team, as a substitute for Brian Vickers, who was still recovering from recent heart surgery. Vickers will reclaim the driver’s seat on March 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Mofitt, who is only 21 years old but looks younger, was visibly emotional after the race, and not afraid to admit it. “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,” he said. “I want to be in the car the whole year. I’m sure something will come about and an opportunity will open up, so we’ll see.”

I have a habit of beating the drum about the changing face of NASCAR, this current time of transition when icons, most notably four-time champion Jeff Gordon, are either talking about moving on or actually doing it, and we have a crop of relative newbies to get acquainted with. It’s hard to let go of old friends we’ve been cheering on for, in some cases, over two decades, but it’s also exciting to let it sink into our heads that the future is looking pretty promising.

“That has to be the story of the day,” said MWR Executive Vice President Ty Norris after the race. “From the first corner of the first lap, I was nervous for him because I really wanted him to showcase his talents. What an incredible story, for him to come out here and finish eighth … He went three-wide and passed Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne, then held off Brad Keselowski for the last 10 to 12 laps to do it. It wasn’t like he just lucked into it; he earned it and I’m proud of him. I hope his phone rings off the hook.”

Even seasoned corporate types still have the capacity to get excited.

Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson won the race, but ultimately the story of the day was Brett Moffitt, a longshot on a mission. I’ve never been so excited by an eighth-place finish, and I look forward to whatever opportunities arise for this young driver.

Long story short, it was the best 10 dollars I ever lost. Hypothetically, of course.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.

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