Race fans who frequent the Motor Mile Speedway will see a familiar name on the starting grid at Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Quin Houff, a 21-year-old driver out of the Shenandoah Valley community of Weyers Cave who was the rookie of the year at Motor Mile when he was just 14, is set to drive in NASCAR’s biggest event of the week.
It will be the second Cup start for Houff, who is one of four drivers driving the No. 77 car this season for Spire Motorsports. The team ran the car as No. 40 in the Daytona 500, driven by Jamie McMurray in his farewell race, but has since branded it as the 77 with Houff, Reed Sorenson, Garrett Smithley and D.J. Kennington splitting the seat.
The team bought its charter from defunct Furniture Row Racing, so the 77 has a spot on the starting grid of every race.
Aside from McMurray’s 22nd-place finish in Daytona, Houff turned in the best result, finishing in 30th at Phoenix. He starts 36th in Sunday’s 2 p.m. race.
“I’m a natural short-track racer. Bristol suits my style,” Houff said. “It’s one of my favorite facilities.”
Despite being one of the shortest tracks on the Cup schedule, it is 210 yards longer than Motor Mile Speedway.
Still, Bristol is known for contact among the cars. Wrecks are common. A low-budget team like Spire doesn’t need a wadded up machine on the rollback before the race is over.
Spire General Manager Joey Dennewitz said the goal is “to keep the fenders on the car. If we manage to finish in the top 30 we’ll do cartwheels around the parking lot.”
Houff’s skill as a racer who can run in tight places was the reason Spire added him to the stable.
“He’s good at taking care of the equipment,” Dennewitz said. “We see him as having talent and he’s got some experience. We’re glad to have Quin.”
Houff has a handful of starts in the Xfinity Series under his belt, including his first start in NASCAR’s second-tier series at Bristol, where he finished 15th and on the lead lap.
So far, Houff has not been licensed to run any track larger than a mile, so he is the Spire short-track racer. However, he will get his speedway credential soon and expects to start the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.
Houff will race both Bristol races and both Richmond races. Kennington was in the seat at Martinsville and will be again when the series returns in the fall.
“I’m excited for myself and this opportunity, to be on top level of my sport,” Houff said. “It’s very humbling. I’ve got a lot to learn, I know that, but I’m up to the challenge.”
He said being in the drivers’ meeting before a Cup race is exciting.
“Looking around and seeing all those big names I grew up watching. It’s easy to get pretty star struck,” he said. “I just put my head down and get focused.”