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Saturday’s Pocono Mountains 150 at Pocono Raceway will be a big one for Brett Moffitt.
It could even be his biggest.
The 2015 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year, who has been out of a ride since the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, will return to the cockpit in the Camping World Truck Series, subbing for Matt Tifft.
After his first race with the Red Horse Racing No. 11 team three weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway, Moffitt is back with the team for a second opportunity back on the track.
“With Matt Tifft being out, the races were open,” Moffitt said. “We pulled some sponsorship together to make Kentucky happen. Same thing again this weekend. They needed someone to fill it and luckily, I had the opportunity to.”
Making his second start in the No. 11 Toyota, the 23-year-old enters Pocono, a track he raced at twice in the Cup Series last season.“It keep it interesting as a driver because you have three turns and they’re all completely different,” he said. “The Cup car, you’re shifting in all three corners, too. In the trucks, we don’t do that, so that takes a little bit of the work load off. I like going to new tracks, challenging tracks and Pocono really pushed that.”
Since his last time at the Tricky Triangle, Moffitt found himself in a situation of being without a ride for the 2016 season. After one of the biggest years of his racing career in 2015, Moffitt points to the opportunity with Michael Waltrip Racing as a massive learning curve.
“I definitely wish I could’ve been more well-developed when I got the opportunity,” he said of his six-race deal. “But nonetheless, I got a great opportunity there. For me, it helped my confidence a lot. You’re getting 500-mile races at these tracks plus more practice and everything.
“Going from basically K&N racing to Cup racing was a huge transition. Coming back to the Truck Series, I have a little more track time than a lot of these rookies do. I think that helps my confidence.”
Before his current endeavor, however, Moffitt went through a difficult winter, where he was left watching the races from the couch.
“It was long,” he said. “Last year was the first time in my career I had a multi-year contract signed. I was pretty confident I was going to be good and then, with MWR shutting down, it put me back in the same spot I’ve been in my whole career of not knowing where I’m going to go at the end of the year.
“It was a long offseason, it was stressful. Luckily I’ve dealt with it enough that I know that hopefully something is going to happen at the other side that will be better. This year, it was a long time until I got the opportunity to race.
“Tom DeLoach and his family gave me an opportunity at Kentucky. We qualified well, practiced well and then blew a motor in the race. It was a little disappointing but know we’re back here. We have the same truck we had in Kentucky so hopefully well be just as fast.”
Having race-by-race plans, as Tifft continues to recover from brain tumor removal surgery, it’s nothing new for Moffitt, who also subbed for Brian Vickers in his time with MWR last year.
“It’s really the same thing I had with Brian Vickers in the No. 55 car,” he said. “I’ve been through it once and it’s unfortunate circumstances. You never want to benefit from someone’s hard times. At the same time, he’s out and I have to go perform. It really works out for both of us because, as soon as he’s able, he’s going to come back and in the mean time, I’m getting great experience.
“When you do have a full-time ride, you might be able to take risks that you wouldn’t take in my position now. I need to have a good performance. Everything is a calculated risk in your mind when you’re on the track.”
Being out of the full-time string, there are a few things Moffitt doesn’t miss.
“It’s good because you don’t get caught up in the drama of week-to-week racing and having feuds with certain drivers,” he said. “You can make it really hard as a driver on someone if you want to. Not having those feuds helps me in this situation.
“There are a lot of drivers who probably don’t belong here. Its frustrating showing that I’ve proven myself and not being out there.”
As seen from many drivers before him, being without a competitive ride can result in two things: Accepting a ride for a small, possibly start-and-park team, or sitting at home waiting for the next big phone call. For Moffitt, the latter was the only option.
“We really didn’t want to go that direction,” he said. “It deludes your stocks in yourself. I get it. The guys who are out there that need to support a family and have an income off it. That’s why they do that, that’s why they start-and-park.
“For me, I love to compete. Even last year, you’re racing for top 20s and that’s frustrating for me. I want to be in winning equipment. I feel like that’s what we have here at Red Horse Racing and it makes it a lot more fun. At Kentucky, I told the guys that it felt good, it’s been a while since I’ve been at the top of the board in practice.”
Entering what could potentially be his final start of 2016, the Iowa native is soaking up every ounce of advice and every inch of opportunity.
“Timothy Peters has been a great teammate,” he said of his veteran mate. “I don’t have a lot of Truck experience so being able to bounce notes off him and the No. 17 team, I think it helps both of our teams.
“[Beyond Pocono] It’s what ever comes up. Whether it’s an opportunity in Trucks or XFINITY or even Cup racing, any of the three Id love to be driving.”