Hattori Racing Enterprises

Austin Hill joins Hattori Racing Enterprises in Truck Series

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Austin Hill will drive for Hattori Racing Enterprises in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series this season, the team announced Tuesday.

Hill takes over the No. 16 Toyota from Brett Moffitt, who won six races and the series title for the team last year. Moffitt revealed in early December that he would not be returning to the team due to a lack of sponsorship.

Moffitt has not announced any plans for 2019.

A native of Winston, Georgia, Hill is a former member of the NASCAR Next program who competed full-time for Young’s Motorsports in the Truck Series last year and finished 11th in the standings.

Hill has 51 Truck starts since 2014 with one top five in last November’s race at Texas Motor Speedway

He also earned five K&N Pro Series East wins from 2013-15.

The No. 16 will be sponsored by Toyota autodealer Chiba Toyopet in the season opener at Daytona. United Rentals will be a sponsor in multiple races. The team was sponsored by Ibaraki Toyopet and Kobe Toyopet in one race each in 2018.

“I’m thrilled to join HRE this season,” Hill said a press release. “(Owner) Shige (Hattori) has built a great team and what they accomplished last season has me extremely optimistic heading to Daytona. I’ve had the pleasure to work with great teams in the past, including my family’s team in the K&N Series, but this is an opportunity of a lifetime at HRE. Scott and the team proved what they’re capable of last season, and I can’t wait to get to work and see what we can accomplish this season.”

Scott Zipadelli will return as the team’s crew chief.

“I’m really looking forward to racing with Austin and continuing our team’s success,” Zipadelli said in the press release. “Austin is a great kid and has a lot of potential. He has a great track record in the K&N Series and put together a strong year last season with Young’s Motorsports. I think he’ll transition well into our program and fit right in with our group.”

Hattori also announced this week it will return to competition in the K&N Pro Series East with Max McLaughlin in the No. 1 Toyota.

McLaughlin’s team will run engines prepared by students from NASCAR Technical Institute’s (NTI) Spec Engine Program.

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Hattori Racing to replace Truck champ Brett Moffitt

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
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NASCAR Truck champion Brett Moffitt told Autoweek that he will not return to Hattori Racing for the 2019 season. Autoweek reported that the team is replacing Moffitt with a driver who will bring funding.

Even with last year’s success – Moffitt won six of 23 races – the team struggled to make it to some races and even considered starting and parking to maintain its playoff eligibility.

“We always wanted to stay together,” Moffitt told Autoweek. “The crew guys and I certainly wanted to stay together. I found out on Monday and I was at the shop on Tuesday to get my stuff. I met with (team owner) Shige (Hattori) and he told me the direction.”

Hattori issued a statement Wednesday that did not address who will drive for his team in 2019:

“We are extremely proud of what we achieved with Brett and winning the championship together. Our organization’s relationship with (Moffitt) dates back to 2012 and we’re thankful for what he has meant to our team and the effort he put forth. This past season was full of adversity and we faced numerous challenges in getting to the racetrack each week. Our entire team is working hard to put the best possible program together for next year and we’re excited to compete in 2019. We’re looking forward to celebrating our championship on Saturday night with Brett at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series awards banquet and hope our results together benefit all of us in the future.”

Moffitt’s status is not surprising. Even after winning the season finale in Miami to win the championship, Moffitt acknowledged that “I’m still not guaranteed a job next year.”

In an interview with Fox Sports Wednesday, Moffitt explained he was very understanding of the decision by Hattori.

“I get it. It’s a business at the end of the day,” Moffitt said. “If he can take an option where it’s going to help propel his business in the right direction, it’s what you got to do. If sticking with me would have meant a lot of uncertainty I totally get and respect the decision.”

Moffitt’s uncertain future was posed to NASCAR President Steve Phelps two days after Moffitt won the Truck title. Phelps was asked how the sport can make sure successful drivers have their place regardless of how they relate to a company.

“Brett Moffitt is obviously a very talented race car driver who has won more this year obviously than he’s ever won,” Phelps said in Miami the day of the Cup season finale. “He has a bright future. What that future looks like, I don’t know. What I do know is that we work with race teams from a revenue standpoint as much as we can. We also work with drivers to try to bridge driver opportunities.

Are we always successful in getting a driver who wants to be driving in whatever series they want to drive in? No. But there are a lot of historical things that we have done to try to make sure that if a driver is interested in continuing that that driver has that opportunity.”

A little over two weeks after the end of the season, Moffitt is sporting a fresh mustache. Five days after he claimed the title he shaved the one he had during his playoff run.

Moffitt explained bad things started happening to him once he shaved NASCAR’s first championship mustache since 2001.

“Five days after the championship I started playing really bad golf after I shaved it,” Moffitt said. “Then I found out that I will not be returning to HRE. So all these things kind of started happening … Then I started growing it back and I went out and played golf and shot a 78, which is the lowest round I’ve ever shot. I think (the mustache) got powers, man.”