Drivers provide local flavor to weekend races
For one reason or another, plenty of drivers that have driven at Iowa Speedway refer to it as a “hometown race” due to the intimate setup and interaction with the fans.
While that is generally a nice thought, those drivers likely have no idea what kind of hometown feel Michael Annett and Brett Moffitt have when they take to the track on race days.
Although they have competed in different series throughout their careers, Annett (a Des Moines native) and Moffitt (Grimes) will share the track when Moffitt makes his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in the U.S. Cellular 250 at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“The track speaks for itself,” Annett said. “You hear so often about how nice the track is, along with the facility and the people, and I get all kinds of people telling me how much they enjoy Iowa. The fact that Brett and I can be part of the race, I feel privileged.”
Moffitt, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader, and Annett, a Nationwide Series regular since 2009, enter the weekend at different points in their careers, but have plenty of experience in Newton. Annett grabbed a 14th-place finish at the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 in May. Moffitt led nearly all of the K&N East-West challenge in May, but ultimately came up short on the final laps.
While he’s still in search of his first Nationwide victory, Annett has been coming on strong in recent weeks. He picked up a sixth-place finish on top of a $100,000 bonus last week through the Dash4Cash promotion and has three top-fives in the past five races.
“In the past six races or so, it seems like our team is hitting its stride,” Annett said. “The past month has been awesome, especially for a team that was put together a month before the season started. I’m really happy with where we’re at right now.”
Although he enters this weekend with the K&N East points lead, Moffitt will have to contend with Chase Elliott, who claimed May’s event at Iowa Speedway, on Friday night. Moffitt led 144 of that race’s 154 laps before Elliott gained the lead late and held on through a green-white-checkered finish.
“I’m a little nervous, that’s for sure,” Moffitt said. “It’s really fun that I get to do it in front of my family and friends, but when it comes down to it, it’s just another race. You’ve got to go out there and perform, although I do put a little more heart into that place because of what’s happened in the past.”
This season has been anything but calm for Moffitt, as his two victories and five total podium appearances earned him the shot at his career’s next stepping stone. He actually received the last-minute news of his big debut while hanging out with friends at Lake Panorama earlier in the season.
“It was totally random to me, but it was amazing,” Moffitt said. “We had talked about it earlier in the season, but I had forgot it and didn’t think it was happening, but then it did at the last minute and I’m very thankful for that.”
The two drivers actually met somewhat coincidentally on the golf course, but have since golfed together a few more times. And although they haven’t been able to speak since Moffitt got his deal, Moffitt plans to pick Annett’s brain for some advice should the two cross paths in the garage before Saturday’s race.
“He’s a great kid, a hell of a talent and he’s having a great season so far,” Annett said of Moffitt. “He’s going to make a name for himself in the Nationwide Series in the next few years, and it’s cool to have someone there from the same town as you.”
Sharing a hometown is nice for the pair, but don’t expect any courtesies out on the track Saturday night. Annett is searching for some redemption from May when mechanical problems apparently held his car up, and Moffitt could still be running hot depending on what happens in his K&N race.
“I think going into this race, winning is the main goal,” Annett said. “We had a sharp racecar when we were here earlier in the year, but had a plug wire come off actually twice throughout the race. Even when we didn’t have anything fixed, we still had a strong racecar. We feel like we let one go, and I’ve been looking forward to coming back here.”
The two drivers echo that sentiment that while it’s nice to return home, business still comes first. Although the pressure of racing in front of family, friends and a hometown crowd can add a little pressure, neither try to think of it in those terms. In fact, just having a venue like Iowa Speedway in an otherwise hometown track-dominated state shows how far they and Iowa have come in the national racing scene.
“Iowa has been taking off, and I think it all goes back to the dirt track,” Moffitt said. “It makes great drivers, great fans and Iowa Speedway has done a great job getting those fans to come out and enjoy asphalt racing. Those fans are so energetic and you can feel the energy of them cheering.”