Chris Buescher and Brett Moffitt making most of unexpected Sprint Cup opportunities
They came from small towns.
Brett Moffitt hails from Grimes, Iowa, a community of 9,000 about 20 minutes northwest of Des Moines.
Chris Buescher is from Prosper, Texas, a town of nearly 13,000 about 40 minutes north of Dallas.
While their parents built houses for a living, both moved to Charlotte, N.C., to pursue their racing dreams, eventually signing as development drivers for NASCAR Sprint Cup teams.
Now the 22-year-olds - born about two months apart - find themselves in the unexpected role of replacement Cup drivers with a chance to prove they can be permanent solutions.
“This has been a hectic year and not really in a good way on the Cup side,” Buescher told NASCAR Talk. “A lot of crazy things have happened.”
For Moffitt, it began with Brian Vickers’ recovery from offseason heart surgery, which forced Vickers to miss the first two races of this year.
“The day they announced that Michael (Waltrip) would be in (Vickers’) car at the Daytona 500, they pulled me aside afterwards and told me ‘Hey, everything’s done, we’re just waiting to announce it, but you’re going to be in the car at Atlanta,’” Moffitt said. “Then I had to go a week without telling anyone, which is really hard because I was obviously super excited.”
That enthusiasm and Moffitt’s talent led Waltrip to hire the youngster in 2011 to drive in the K&N Pro Series East and be a test driver for the Cup team.
“When I see a kid like that, it reminds me of when I was that age and how much I wanted to race and what it would mean to me to be able to get in that car and race in NASCAR,” Waltrip said.
Moffitt’s seven Cup races for Premium Motorsports in 2014 also helped convince Waltrip to put a driver with one Xfinity Series race and two Camping World Truck Series starts in a Cup ride.
Moffitt exceeded expectations with an eight-place finish at Atlanta before Vickers returned at Las Vegas. Moffitt’s run led to a two-race stint with Front Row Motorsports to drive for David Ragan while Ragan filled in for an injured Kyle Busch in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18.
Moffitt was to have driven a third race with Front Row at Auto Club Speedway before a 4 a.m. phone call changed that.
“I actually thought I was in trouble for something,” he said.
Instead, MWR needed a driver. Vickers suffered a recurrence of blood clots, which also forced him out of the car in 2010 and 2013. Vickers was back on blood thinners and out of the car at least three months.
Later that day, Moffitt had to literally squeeze into Vickers’ fire suit.
“It was kind of comical,’’ Moffitt said. “It wasn’t a height thing, I’m just bigger all the way around.”
Since Moffitt was only scheduled to drive the No. 55 in one race, he had contemplated storing his fire suit in a shadow box.
That enclosed glass display case is on hold, though, for as long as MWR and its sponsors deem Moffitt a worthy replacement.
“We’re trying to figure out the future of the team,” Waltrip told NASCAR Talk. “There’s a chance there’s a road racer at (Sonoma), or maybe I drive it at Talladega. We just want to have those options open. Brett’s a part of our team. He’s been there for a couple of years now ... he’s the guy in our car for the near future.”
Chris Buescher was taken aback.
That same morning Moffit received his wake-up call, Buescher was eating breakfast at his team’s hotel when the second-year Xfinity Series driver was asked by Front Row Motorsports if he could substitute for Moffitt in the Auto Club 400.
“It was very quick, very to the point, ‘What do you think?’ said Buescher, who consulted Robbie Reiser, the general manager of Roush Fenway Racing.
Reiser told Buescher to do it, noting the experience the driver would gain. Within a couple of hours, Buescher was fitted for a seat.
Two days later, Buescher made his first career Sprint Cup start and finished 20th, two spots ahead of Moffitt.
The ensuing month has been hectic for Buescher. He’s split time between the Roush Fenway Racing and Front Row Motorsports shops with his Charlotte home halfway between them.
“You’re running down to one in the morning, going past the house all the way back up to the other one, then back down in the afternoon,” Buescher said. “So it’s been a lot of driving, a lot of work trying to get fit in at both shops. It makes it a little tougher during race week having to communicate with two entirely different organizations.”
While Moffitt had turned heads with his eighth-place finish at Atlanta, Buescher impressed his employer’s when he didn’t turn them. A week after his Cup debut at Auto Club Speedway, Buescher made his first start at Martinsville, finishing 24th.
“Martinsville is a give-and-take place and rookies can’t take much,” car owner Jack Roush told NASCAR Talk. “They’ve got to give a lot and he gave enough so that he didn’t manage to make somebody mad at him and get wrecked and he still got a reasonable finish.”
Buescher knows he’ll drive a Sprint Cup car a few more weeks. The day before finishing 30th at Texas, Front Row Motorsports announced that Buescher would drive at Bristol and at Talladega. He’s skipping Richmond to focus on his full-time Xfinity ride.
“We’re looking great in points right now, and we need to go out here and capitalize on it and the cards will fall as we go forward,’’ said Buescher, who is two points behind series leader Ty Dillon.
Roush said he believes Buescher is two to three years away from a shot at a full-time Cup ride. An Xfinity title, though, could alter the schedule.
“That would certainly grease the skids for him,” Roush said. “This is probably not a bad time for a driver to be doing what Chris is doing, showing his skill and ability and to show his blue sky potential.”