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.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race: Start time, TV channel

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs get underway with the Saturday Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The race is the first of seven to determine the champion.

Chase Briscoe is on the pole after his win last weekend at Bristol

Here is all the info for the Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:38 p.m by Cup driver Bubba Wallace. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:47 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 1 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Mackenzie Mackey at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: Coverage begins on NBCSN with Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 7 p.m.. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the link.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for clear skies with a high of 95 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe beat Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric at Bristol.

LAST RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Chase Briscoe beat Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg for the win.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

General Motors announces leadership for technical center

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General Motors has announced the leadership for its new performance and racing technical center in Concord, North Carolina.

GM has tapped Dr. Eric Warren of Richard Childress Racing to be the director of NASCAR operations at the facility, which was unveiled in January.

Warren will be responsible for competition duties for NASCAR programs, “as well as expanding the involvement of GM’s product development resources in the technical strategy for the Chevrolet race teams,” GM said in a statement.

GM’s 75,000-square-foot facility will feature Driver-in-the-Loop simulators, vehicle simulation, aero development and other practices designed to advance racing and production capabilities.

Warren had been RCR’s Chief Technology Officer since 2017 and part of the team since 2012.

GM also named Mark Stielow to its new Director of Motorsports Competition Engineering position. Stielow will be responsible for overall engineering and technical direction for the NHRA, IndyCar, IMSA and Motorsports Operations. He will have a direct link to GM’s vehicle integration organization.

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

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Charlotte Motor Speedway will host fans for its NASCAR Xfinity and Cup races and its IMSA race on the Roval Oct. 10-11, the track announced Friday.

The announcement comes after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper stated this week that outdoor sports venues with a capacity in excess of 10,000 could have up to 7% capacity.

The track stated that because of the limited capacity allowed, no additional tickets will be sold for the Oct. 11 Cup playoff race. Remaining ticket holders will have the option to receive a 120% credit toward a 2021 event or a refund for the full purchase amount.

Tickets remain for the Oct. 10 Xfinity playoff race and the IMSA WeatherTech  SportsCar GT Championship Series event. Adult tickets are $50. Tickets are available by calling 800-455-FANS (3267) or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com. Kids 13 and under get in free.

“Throughout the summer, we’ve been working with local and state officials to bring fans to the Bank of America Roval 400 weekend for what promises to be one of the season’s most anticipated events,” said Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Greg Walter in a statement. “While we regret that we cannot accommodate every fan who would like to be part of this spectacular race weekend, we are committed to providing the best and safest experience possible for those who are able to attend.”

Among the safety protocols for the events:

  • Mandatory temperature checks at entry gates
  • Contactless ticketing
  • Socially distanced grandstand seating
  • Cashless souvenir and concession purchases.
  • Fans and staff must wear approved face coverings at all times, except while eating and drinking.
  • Limited grandstand seating will be in groups of up to six people properly socially distant from any other group.

Fans can bring food and unopened beverages in a soft-sided clear bag no larger than 14 inches on its longest side. To limit contact, cash will not be accepted.