Brett Moffitt is officially a free agent.
The reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion was told last week that Hattori Racing Enterprises had reached an agreement with a new driver for the 2019 season. The reasons had nothing to do with performance or chemistry, but rather an extension of the financial challenges that had plagued the team throughout their championship-winning campaign.
In short, Moffitt was bought out by a yet-to-be-revealed driver who brought funding the team legitimately needed to keep the doors open.
While the 26-year-old driver wishes he could remain with team owner Shige Hattori, crew chief Scott Zipadelli and general manager Mike Greci, it simply wasn’t an option without securing additional sponsorship.
"We always wanted to stay together," Moffitt told Autoweek on Monday. "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 Shige and he told me the direction."
Moffitt says he harbors no hard feelings against his soon-to-be former team but wishes that winning six races and the championship provided more security and support.
"It was frustrating at times," Moffitt said. "It's a little heartbreaking to perform like we did and have the kind of year we had, and not be able to go back and do it again.
"Everyone worked so hard this year and I just felt like we could have had an even better year if we could have remained together."
This isn’t totally unfamiliar territory for the Iowa native. Moffitt has won in a variety of divisions over the past decade and was once a Michael Waltrip Racing development driver. When that team folded, he bounced around as journeyman driver, making starts for a variety of teams in a one-off capacity until he landed at Red Horse Racing in 2017.
That team closed five races into the season, and he was once again unemployed.
For 2018, he signed what amounted to a four-race deal to drive for Hattori and was third in the standings after that initial stretch. The tandem patched together enough funding to last the season and it resulted in a championship despite a rules controversy that forced the team to swap from Toyota engines to the NASCAR NT1 spec powerplant.
"I don't think anyone really understands the complete hell we went through going week to week to make it to the track at certain points this year," he said. "Even with the possibility that we might not go to the racetrack on a given week, everyone still worked hard to bring race-winning trucks to the track.
"Scott and I are friends on and off the track, and it's great to have the relationships that were built this year."
From Hattori's standpoint, the team just narrowly secured the funding needed to chase the championship this past fall. It was faced with the same dilemma for 2019 it struggled with this summer. The team couldn't continue on without the guarantee of funding.
It's something that Waltrip himself faced in regard to Moffitt.
"It's been true since the start of the sport," Waltrip said. "People act like this is new, but ever since I started racing, it's been about sponsorship. I remember walking around Owensboro, Kentucky, asking the local tire dealer for sponsorship. This isn't like a stick and ball sport where talent is enough. Fortunately, Brett knows that. And he's been here before. He is going to figure it out. He is at a point in his life, where he's smart enough to know what he has to do. And he's a fighter. He keeps bouncing back."
Moffitt believes his talent will see him through to another situation in which he can compete for wins and another championship in one of the three national touring divisions.
The on-track statistics speak for themselves. He won the Cup Series Rookie of the Year award in 2015 with Waltrip and Front Row Motorsports, has seven Truck Series wins in just 36 starts and has the fewest number of starts, not counting inaugural champion Mike Skinner, to have won the championship.
But he's also confident in his ability to be an ambassador for partners off-the-track too.
"I've been here before, unfortunately," Moffitt said. "Over the years, I've found myself in this spot and it's taught me to break out of my shell a little bit. I've learned to explore every avenue …
"The cost to do this is just out of control right now. It's kind of sad that a driver that just won a championship is in this position. But the goal is to get back to this position. We're going to celebrate our championship this weekend. I look forward to celebrating with my guys, and I'm going to work hard to make sure I can do this again."
Where Moffitt goes from here is to be determined.
While this development is a sobering reminder of the financial realities of motorsports, there have been a few bright spots over the last calendar year. Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric earned Cup rides on the merit of talent and connections alone. Ross Chastain turned a three-race agreement with Chip Ganassi Racing into a full-time deal for 2019. There are avenues for drivers to make it on talent alone.
Denny Hamlin is a longtime friend of Moffitt and believes his perseverance will land him with another opportunity.
"He has to take the best situation available and get the most out of it," Hamlin said. "You have to stay relevant. Look at Ross Chastain. He outperformed that car. Brett is capable of doing that. Even in today's climate, if you can do that consistently, you're probably going to get opportunities."
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