Coming into 2019, Quin Houff had limited NASCAR experience, only running 10 Xfinity Series races in the past two seasons. Fast forward five months, and the 21-year-old has 12 starts at the Monster Energy Cup Series starts between Spire Motorsports and Premium Motorsports.
Houff made his debut in the No. 77 Chevrolet at ISM Raceway, finishing 30th. In his 12 starts, he has a best outing of 28th in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with an average finish of 32.9.
Earlier this month, Spire Motorsports pulled off, one of, if not the biggest upset in NASCAR history when Justin Haley won at Daytona due to weather. Regardless, it was a victory nonetheless. Unfortunately for Houff, Daytona was the only race of his 12 starts that he wasn’t running for Spire. On that day, he drove the No. 15 Chevrolet to a 37th-place finish at Daytona.
Houff sat down with Frontstretch recently to discuss his racing background, how he got to the Cup Series, not having any expectations with Spire, why he deserves the opportunity to be racing at the pinnacle level of motorsports and much more.
Dustin Albino, Frontstretch: You began racing in go-karts, moved to Late Models, but how did you end up here?
Quin Houff: I ran Late Model stocks through North Carolina and Virginia at South Boston Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway. That’s where I cut my teeth in a full-size stock car at 14, 15-years old. [I] did that for two or three years, and then the last year ran half Late Models, half Super Late Models.
Super is where I feel like it helped me and I excelled the power in the lighter cars. [I] did that until I was 18 and I was making my first start in ARCA at Daytona (International Speedway). My career has really been taking off, and it seems like every time it feels like I’m done moving up the ranks an opportunity arises and I do the best I can with it.
Albino: How did you get from there to NASCAR?
Houff: It’s all about who you know in racing, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of great people and a lot of great teams. Without them, I don’t think I would have the right people to make the next step.
Luckily, the performances I had in ARCA got me approved for Xfinity, and I actually ended up with Precision Performance Motorsports, who is no longer in Xfinity, but they were a group from Virginia that raced at Langley Speedway.
There was a weird connection there, but then you’re on the scene in Xfinity running Bristol as a 19-year-old. That’s the dream. It was a lot of fun. I came out and ran 15th in my debut and it’s just kept going from there. We had those opportunities and unfortunately they closed their doors, and again I thought we were a sitting duck. But I got the fortunate opportunity to run some more ARCA and staying behind the wheel. Then an opportunity came up with Johnny Davis, where Ross (Chastain) was with Ganassi and that grew into some more.
It’s kind of indescribable of how I ended up in Cup because it was in a passing meeting, and all of a sudden there was nowhere to go and no license to be able to do it, and somehow we got both of them done. Spire had this car open up. They’ve been a huge help to my career and put me in the Cup car, giving me a great opportunity to be at the top level of the sport and learn these tracks and these cars with the new package. It’s been a lot of fun this year, and I’m glad to be a small part of this group.
Albino: You’ve competed in 12 races between Spire Motorsports and Premium Motorsports. How would you assess the season?
Houff: This team is a new team. They put together the (No.) 77 and for them to take the chance on me, a new driver, is incredible and I can’t thank them enough for it. We’ve been learning together. A lot of these races consecutively that I’m running right now helps out a lot. Communication with Peter (Sospenzo, crew chief) and the group, from where we started to where we are now, has been big gains. I think we’re excelling with what we have, and hopefully, we get the opportunity in the second half of the season to go back to some of these tracks and see the improvements that we’ve made.
I would assess the year as a plus. We have no expectations as a group and we go out there and exceed what we have as expectations. These boys have a win now. You can’t take that away from them. You would have never of thought that at the beginning of the season. Just to be a small part of it has been real fun.
Albino: What have been some of the biggest struggles you’ve personally had to overcome this year?
Houff: The biggest struggles as a rookie adapting to the Cup Series is you can run these Xfinity and ARCA races and you get back there [around] 15th and beyond and drops it off pretty hard. You get out here and these are 40 of the best drivers in the world. The pace is so much different.
The biggest thing for me was learning that pace. Between the pace and the distance of these races was a really big learning curve. Aside from that, these cars, which luckily as a rookie this year everybody has been learning these cars. But with a smaller team, the bigger ones are going to excel first.
I’ve had a lot of help and surrounded by a lot of great people here. Having Ross and Reed (Sorenson) around to ask any questions, even someone like Corey LaJoie, or any of those guys. They’ve been in this position so they understand and try to help as much as they can. Surrounding yourself with good people helps a lot.
Albino: Because it’s a first-year team, how much pressure is there when you run in the No. 77?
Houff: I think the reason they hired me is I’m a racecar driver that takes care of equipment and does the best with what we have. You have to understand those boundaries and run within your means. There’s your own separate race throughout the race.
It’s not a lot of pressure because there isn’t any expectations. Yeah, we won a race now, obviously, that was different circumstances and it was like catching a lightning bolt in a mason jar. I don’t put that as any pressure on me. I think it’s a good thing for the group, good thing for me and Justin as drivers. I know I’ve gotten a lot of follows just because when people look up Spire Motorsports being on the page. It’s nothing but a positive for this little group to get some recognition and we’re going to go out here and do what we’ve been doing like before.
Albino: How disappointing was it not being in the No. 77 car at Daytona?
Houff: I don’t think there was any disappointment. You have to give it to Peter Sospenzo for the call he made on the pit box and you have to give it to Justin Haley for keeping the car where he needed to at the back of the pack on the lead lap. All of that had to play out right. Then obviously, there’s the big luck side.
Even if I was in the (No.) 77, you couldn’t tell me that we wouldn’t have had another problem or a different pit strategy or even might have been up in there and got caught up in one of those wrecks.
There was a little bit of mixed emotions about it initially. Obviously, you’re a competitor and you want to win. It’s crazy to see someone that close to you win in their third Cup start. More power to him and it’s been good for the whole group. The atmosphere around the guys and wanting to do better and go faster – just the recognition we’re getting is good. We bust our butts just as hard as anybody in the garage and we do it with very little. It’s good to see that we’re getting some recognition.
Albino: What’s the win say about Spire Motorsports, being one of the few organizations to win this year?
Houff: It’s wild. It says a lot about Spire and I think it’s good for our sport. I like guys like that taking chances with what they’re doing with drivers like me. Without that, I wouldn’t be sitting in a Cup car getting any recognition. I would be confused as to what to do back in Xfinity, Trucks or ARCA still.
These guys are investing in our sport and giving guys opportunities. I’m glad to see they’re doing well and I hope to continue being a positive part of their program.
Albino: What’s it mean to you to have a team behind you, though you didn’t have any experience at the Cup level?
Houff: It means the world to me. There’s not many Cup opportunities out there, period. For a new opportunity to arise, and for me to be one of the ones to do it is awesome. There’s a lot of pressure to run up at the Cup level, and I got lucky with the least amount of pressure.
No one has expectations for us. It’s a new team. They don’t know who I am. They don’t know who’s in the car. It’s been fun to go out there and turn some heads, all the way up to winning a race. I’m very happy for this group and hope they continue to excel and stay in the sport with us.
Albino: How did the original opportunity come about with joining Spire?
Houff: It’s just about who you know or who sees you. It was a funny situation where we met with passing, and there wasn’t really an opportunity at that time for Spire, Premium or anybody.
Albino: What do you mean by met in passing?
Houff: We were racing ARCA with Mason Mitchell, and a team at that time was looking to buy something as simple as a hauler. One of the guys, JR (Longley, owner of Performance Marketing Group), my guy at PMG (driver management group), was just talking to them about buying the hauler and my name came up. It was like, ‘Yeah, we have an idea of giving him some races.’ It’s like, ‘What.’
After that nothing happened because I couldn’t get approved or anything like that. Then, more opportunities came up with Johnny Davis, and we did well with those opportunities and minding our own business. Once I got the approval, Spire got this deal opened up to start a new team and there was that name laying there.
Albino: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned between your debut at Phoenix and now?
Houff: I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is what it’s like to be behind the wheel for more than six times in a season. It’s been really tough as a driver that doesn’t have much big track experience to come out in an Xfinity, ARCA or even a Cup car now, once, and then drop it for a couple months. Having that consistency behind the wheel has really helped me as a driver stay sharp behind the wheel.
The biggest thing I’ve learned so far in the Cup Series is the pace and how to race these guys. Once you start moving up into different series, you’ve never raced any of these guys, for the most part. You’ve got to learn how to race them, how they want to be raced and where the give and take is.
Albino: Because you don’t have much experience in NASCAR in general, some would say you don’t deserve a Cup ride. To that, you say what?
Houff: To that I say why don’t I deserve the opportunity? There’s thousands of drivers out here striving for the opportunity to drive in Cup. I got the opportunity to drive in Cup. Who’s to say I can’t drive in Cup if I’ve gotten the approval from NASCAR that I can drive in Cup. I’ve got a race team behind me that says, ‘We want you to drive our racecar.’
There’s no question. That’s what everyone is out here to do is to run on Sunday’s. I’m very fortunate and humbled by the experience to run on Sunday’s. I’d love to continue to show people that I do, and we do as a team deserve to run on Sundays.
Albino: Would you have liked to have more experience before moving to Cup?
Houff: Absolutely. You want to have the most experience you need to come into the Cup Series. I’m not going to sit here and say I had all the experience I needed going into the Cup Series, but this is the way things are. This is the way NASCAR ‘s system works now. I had to seize the opportunity when it was there because it may never happen again.
It’s been a little tough of jumping up to the Cup Series so quick, but I feel like I’ve adapted fairly quickly and I feel like I’ve proven each race that I can do this. It’s just the game that we’re all playing, and a lot of times you look at it and say ‘I wish it wasn’t that way,’ but this is just the way things are. We’re minding our own business, playing the game and seizing opportunities.
Albino: You say there are no expectations, but what are some of your goals moving forward in the remaining races this season?
Houff: Now that I’ve run a couple races, I come to the racetrack every weekend with the goal of running all the laps I can run and learn all I can learn. As a team, my goal every week is to finish in the top 30. We’re starting to gel a little bit better in practice. If we can get to some of these tracks again, I think we’ll be able to achieve that goal about every week.
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