Moffitt’s opportunities continue with Vickers sidelined

Bill HaglundSpecial to DCN

At times, when misfortune befalls one, fortune finds another.

That’s been the case, at least in recent weeks, for 22-year-old would-be fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Brett Moffitt.

The 22-year-old from Grimes rose quickly through the lower ranks of NASCAR racing, but seemed to reach a plateau after substantial success in the NASCAR K&N Series, which holds both and East Series and West Series and is considered a notch below the top three series in NASCAR – the Camping World Truck Series, the Xfinity Series and, of course, the elite Sprint Cup Series.

Signed as a developmental driver for Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota, Moffitt got a couple Sprint Cup races under his belt last season. This season, he’s been in the field in all but the opening Daytona 500.

He had been scheduled to compete for MWR in the Atlanta race a week after Daytona. After that, though, his status was uncertain.

But, a series of events that actually began a day before the Daytona 500 have worked to change that, at least for now.

Kyle Busch, driver of the Joe Gibbs’ No. 18 car, suffered broken legs in a severe crash in the Xfinity Series race the day before the Daytona 500, sidelining Busch. Just how long Busch will be on the bench isn’t known, but the injury indirectly led to Moffitt earning a Sprint Cup opportunity beyond the Atlanta race. Of course, Moffitt’s surprising top 10 finish at Atlanta didn’t hurt things, either.

When David Ragan was named to drive the Gibbs-owned No. 18 car, it left open Ragan’s seat behind the wheel of the No. 34 car, fielded by the far less funded Front Row Racing. Moffitt was then named to compete in that car, at least for three races – Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana, Calif.

Before the third race of that schedule, however, another driver’s misfortune changed Moffitt’s future – even if only temporarily.

Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, developed blood clots and was benched by doctors before the California race last Sunday. Vickers had been sidelined the entire 2013 season with blood clots, then had missed Daytona this season after undergoing a heart procedure in December. Waltrip himself drove the No. 55 at Daytona.

Vickers’ most recent health woes once again changed Moffitt’s outlook, at least temporarily.

MWR pulled Moffitt away from Front Row Racing and put him in Vickers’ ride instead for the California race. Moffitt responded with a 22nd place finish in the event that was won by Brad Keselowski.

Moffitt was given another chance with the No. 55 team when he was named to drive the car this Sunday on the tough half-mile Martinsville, Va., track. It’s the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit and it’s regarded as one of the most rugged with its narrow straightaways and flat, almost paper-clip-like, turns. It’s a track that creates problems for even the most veteran of drivers and few, if any, cars finish the race without at least body damage.

Doctors have said that Vickers will be out for at least three months. Moffitt, however, knows his future only as far as Sunday. After Martinsville – Moffitt’s 12th overall start in a Sprint Cup event – the series takes a week off for Easter before returning to action on April 11 in the Duck Commander 500 at Fort Worth, Texas.

That gives the Waltrip team an extra week to determine its longer-range plans with Vickers on the bench.

Moffitt will have a lot to say about that decision if he has another solid performance Sunday in Virginia.