HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — An underdog driver for an underfunded team celebrated a storybook season ending with an improbable championship.
Brett Moffitt won the Trucks Series championship for Hattori Racing, a tiny team stretched so thin financially there were times the organization wasn't sure it could complete this season. But Moffitt, practically a journeyman in NASCAR at age 26, put together the year that made it impossible for the little team to quit.
Moffitt sealed the championship by with a win, his sixth of the season, Friday night in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He won last week at Phoenix to put his Toyota team in the final four and they outperformed their higher-funded rivals to win the title by winning the race.
"I didn't want any drama here, I just wanted a party," Moffitt said. "This year was no easy feat. I don't think people understand how serious things were here. We had a good year, but a championship really put an exclamation point on the year."
It made for a sweet celebration for Moffitt and team owner Shigeaki Hattori, a former driver who dabbled in the Truck Series and Indy cars before turning his focus to team ownership. Both driver and owner have bounced around NASCAR, and this was just the second full season for Hattori's team. Moffitt in 2015 was the top rookie of NASCAR's Cup Series, but he's never been able to land a secure and stable ride.
Not even this season, one in which the team dominated, locked anything down for the future.
Hattori is still looking for sponsorship to keep his team afloat; Moffitt has no concrete plans for 2019.
"We don't have what some of the other teams have budget-wise, but we've got the best people," crew chief Scott Zipadelli said. "I just hope we can keep it going."
Moffitt made his national debut in 2012 and was in the Cup Series three years later. Veteran drivers insist Moffitt is of the highest talent — they call him a "wheelman" — and that proper equipment is the only thing holding him back. He's bounced around for six years to get to this level — an improbable championship that should land him a promotion to a bigger race team.
For Hattori, the victory proved upstart teams can scratch and claw their way into becoming a competitive NASCAR team. With the right combination of people, the team overcame its limitations.
"We all know the story by now where we didn't know if we were going to race the full year, I didn't know if I was going to have the opportunity to compete for a championship even after we got our first win," Moffitt said. "Everyone pulled together hard here."
As his team chugged along, Moffitt credited dedicated sponsors "that came in at clutch moments and got us to the race track."
Noah Gragson was the championship runner-up and finished third in the race. Gragson drove for Toyota-backed Kyle Busch Motorsports, the top team in NASCAR and heavy favorite to win the championship.
Myatt Snider won rookie of the year driving for ThorSport Racing.
Chevrolet won its ninth manufacturer championship, but first in the Trucks Series since 2012.
The championship trophy was presented to Moffitt by Ben Kennedy, the great grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France. Kennedy is a former driver who only recently moved into the leadership side of his family business and his role in the post-race ceremony was indicative of the changing of the guard in NASCAR.