Brett Moffitt wins Rookie of the Year after unexpected Sprint Cup experience

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Brett Moffitt won an award Sunday night that he had no plans of pursuing 10 months ago.

But due to illness, injuries and other racing oddities, the 23-year-old native of Iowa won the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year award for 2015.

That wasn’t an option when Moffitt began 2015 with only one scheduled race at Atlanta. Moffitt drove and finished eighth in the No. 55 substituting for Brian Vickers who was recovering from heart surgery before a return the following week at Las Vegas.

“We kind of got pressured into it in a way,” Moffitt said after finishing 31st in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “It’s a great reason, but having one race on my schedule I didn’t sign up for (Rookie of the Year), so my eighth-place (finish) in Atlanta didn’t count and then my next few races for Michael Waltrip Racing didn’t count towards Rookie of the Year.”

Moffitt thought his Aaron’s firesuit would find a place behind the glass of a shadow box, but he was wearing again three races later at Auto Club Speedway after it was announced Vickers would be out indefinitely due to blood clots. Moffitt would pilot the No. 55 for five races before David Ragan took over.

“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 Rookie of the Year, at that point we said, why not sign up for it and hope things work out?”

They did. In between his first two MWR starts, Moffitt drove the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports. When his stint with MWR was up after the spring Richmond race, the No. 34 that had been driven by Chris Buescher in four races (subbing for Ragan) was his.

“That’s really where Bob (team owner Bob Jenkins) and everyone at Front Row Motorsports kind of made this happen,” Moffitt said. “They stuck their neck out on the line and hired a rookie, and it paid off.”

Where things started with just one race, Moffitt concluded 2015 with 31 more Sprint Cup races under his belt, on top of the seven he drove in 2014. Moffitt wouldn’t have believed anyone that told him he would be the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year within the calendar year.

“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 … I had no clue what I was going to do. I had raced the (K&N Pro Series) East series for five years and had one Xfinity (Series) start that went well, and I thought that was going to take off to something, and it just didn’t.”

Moffitt went from the couch to winning an award that’s been won by Kyle Larson (2014), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2013) and Joey Logano (2009).

Now Moffitt hopes what he did in a season he wasn’t expecting will help out his future. Sitting in the Homestead media center, he said his “slate is empty” so far for 2016. If he doesn’t find a Cup ride at any point next year, he would join two of the last five ROTY winners –  Andy Lally in 2011 and Stephen Leicht in 2012 – in not competing in the series the year after winning the honor.

Leicht hasn’t competed in any NASCAR series since and Lally has only competed in three Xfinity races. Kevin Conway (2010) ran in three Cup races in 2011 but hasn’t been in any NASCAR race since.

“We’re working hard, but it’s hard to secure the funding to be able to run in any of the top three series,” Moffitt said. “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.”

He has no plans yet, but Moffitt knows a thing or two about dealing with the unexpected.