Remember When: Rob Moroso
By Seth Sharp – Late in the 1986 Busch Grand National Series season, a teenager made his debut at Rougemont, catching the eye of all of those watching.
Rob Moroso, who made his first start two days after turning 18, qualified sixth, behind three of the top-five drivers in the points standings. After experiencing some suspension issues with the car, Moroso finished 21st, but not before putting the series on high alert that a new star was in the making.
Moroso made one more start that season at Rockingham, taking his Rick Hendrick owned car to an 18th place finish. His two starts were in preparation for him to drive a full-time in 1987 for a new team, owned and sponsored by his father Dick. Moroso experienced growing pains during his inaugural campaign, notching eight top-10s in 27 races.
He finished the final seven races strong however, with a ninth at Dover, a sixth at Martinsville and a seventh at Charlotte, as well as two other top-12 finishes. He ended the season 15th in points.
Moroso looked to carry that momentum into the following season.
The 1988 season served as Moroso’s breakout in the sport. Through the season’s first ten races, he put his No. 25 Moroso Performance Oldsmobile second in points. It took him only eleven races to match his 1987 total of top-10 finishes, in 14 fewer races. At the season’s 16th event at Myrtle Beach, Moroso out-dueled two-time defending champion of the series Larry Pearson on his way to winning the first race of his career.
But mid-season struggles hampered Moroso’s championship dreams, with crashes at Oxford and Bristol, as well as engine problems at Louisville, IRP and Dover, which knocked Moroso back to sixth in points with only four races remaining. While Tommy Ellis was running away with the series, Pearson, Mike Alexander, Jimmy Hensley and Tommy Houston were all in striking distance for Moroso.
For the second consecutive season, he finished strong, with a 10th at Martinsville, a win at Charlotte, an 11th at Rockingham and a runner-up finish at Martinsville. His string of success catapulted Moroso to a second place finish in the standings.
Not surprising, Moroso opened up the ’89 season not only as a top-contender for the series title but also as one of the biggest future stars NASCAR had to offer. And he didn’t disappoint. Moroso finished third in the season-opening Goody’s 300 at Daytona, surrounded in the top-five by a crop of Winston Cup stars including race winner @AllWaltrip (Darrell Waltrip), @RustyWallace, Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine. Two-time series champion Jack Ingram was the only other Busch Series regular to finish in the top-nine.
He backed up his impressive start by winning at Rockingham, his third career victory. After wins at Charlotte and Volusia County, Moroso led the standings following the season’s first 17 races before more mid-season struggles plagued him. With only four races remaining, Moroso sat fifth in points, 127 points behind the ’88 champion Ellis and also behind Houston, Ingram and L.D. Ottinger.
Moroso seemed to have an advantage with two races at Martinsville and one at Charlotte and Rockingham on the schedule. In seven career races at Martinsville, Moroso had earned four top-10 finishes. Charlotte was statistically his best track, with four top-seven finishes in five races, including winning the previous two at the track. He also headed into Rockingham the defending winner of that race as well.
At Martinsville, Moroso finished second behind the new point leader Houston. Despite his strong finish and moving up to third in the standings, Moroso still had faced a 125 point deficit.
In a wild event that saw 20 of the 42 drivers retire early, Moroso went to Victory Lane for the third consecutive time at Charlotte. His championship rivals, Houston (39th), Ellis (16th), Ingram (29th) and Ottinger (23rd) all experienced issues on the day. The other drivers’ troubles left Moroso on top of the standings by nine points with only two races remaining.
That same weekend, Moroso made his Winston Cup debut, driving a Rick Hendrick owned No. 47 Peak Antifreeze Chevrolet. He qualified 34th but made his way through the field, notching an impressive 14th place finish.
After qualifying third at Rockingham, Moroso fell back and finished 12th, despite leading 15 laps. Houston bounced back from his struggles at Charlotte to finish fifth to overtake Moroso at the top of the standings. As the series headed to Martinsville for the finale, Houston led Moroso by 19 points, Ellis by 44 and Ottinger by 119.
Moroso qualified second, the 12th time in 29 races that he started on the front-row. Houston, who started sixth, lost an engine and his chances for his first title with only 26 laps to go. Moroso finished third, en route to becoming the youngest champion in NASCAR history.
Moroso was promoted to the Winston Cup Series in 1990, driving the No. 20 Crown Petroleum Oldsmobile for his father. Hours after finishing the Tyson Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro in 21st, Moroso and another driver lost their lives in a traffic accident.
The rookie was only four days removed from celebrating his 22nd birthday. At the time of his passing, he sat 26th in points. He posthumously received the Rookie of the Year award at the NASCAR awards banquet in December.
In 86 career Busch Series races, Moroso won six races and nine poles, while finishing in the top-five 24 times and the top-10 42 times. Over 29 Cup races, Moroso finished a career-high ninth in the Pepsi 400 and finished the season 30th in points.
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