One year ago this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, Brandon Brown climbed from his No. 68 car in disbelief. For the first time in his career, he was a winner in NASCAR. That triumph was a validation after years of Brandonbilt Motorsports struggling to get by.
Fast forward to this weekend at Talladega, where Brown will make his last start with his family-run team, Jayski.com was told by a Brandonbilt Motorsports representative. The team will head in a new direction with a funded driver in 2023.
Brown’s win was overshadowed by an unforeseen circumstance and a national controversy, which hurt his chances of gaining additional sponsorship. And since mid-July, he’s been battling to remain in the Xfinity Series.
There’s no questioning that 2022 has been among the greatest challenges — both personal and professional — of Brown’s career. It’s gotten bleak multiple times.
“Everything that happened led to a lot of hatred. It led to a lot of online bullying and hate mail,” Brown told Jayski, earlier this month. All because decisions are made and you become the face of something you want nothing to do with.
“I do some funny marketing stuff online, some little gimmicks and videos, whatever. But when it comes down to it and you ask Brandon Brown what’s your dream, the dream is to race, the dream is to win, the dream is to build myself into a Cup Series driver.”
Brown tries not to internalize the hate he’s fallen victim to over the past year. As he said, those people “don’t know Brandon Brown.”
Since going full time Xfinity racing in 2019 with Brandonbilt, Brown has shown a bulk of potential. He made the postseason in 2020, earning his best average finish of 16.0. Last year, he picked up a career-high nine top-10 finishes and a trio of top fives, but missed out on the playoffs and ended the year 16th in points.
Amidst the success last year, Brandonbilt was still fighting the financial hurdles of fielding a competitive team. Come late May, the team nearly shut down, only for Brown to find additional funding to finish out the year.
Brown was put in the same dilemma this year. Originally, he had until the August race at Daytona to find the necessary partnerships to fill out a season. That was moved up when Austin Dillon wanted to get additional experience at the Indianapolis Road Course in late July. Mike Harmon Racing slotted Brown into the No. 47 car so he could make the race and solidify a starting spot for that group, something the team has done just 10 times in 2022.
In early August, Brandonbilt announced Kris Wright would join the team for nine of the final 12 races in 2022. Looking to gain experience, Wright has a best effort of 20th in four starts thus far.
Meanwhile, Brown is looking to fend for himself. It all stems back to last year at Talladega.
“In my position now, I’ve been removed from the 68 and told, ‘Good luck, find a ride where you can,'” Brown said. “The feeling is having everything stripped away and then having to go completely rebuild in the garage and try to find a ride anywhere and everywhere. But all of these rides have the same common denominator and that is you have to bring sponsorship.
“We were playing on hard last year when we were still loveable and people thought we were funny. It was still hard to find sponsorship; that’s always been a struggle in this. But it made it a million times harder [now].”
Similar to 2021, Brandonbilt was close to shutting down its operation. Jerry Brown, team owner and Brandon’s father, had to make the call of his son being left without a regular ride.
Brown understands his father’s decision, though it doesn’t make his position any easier.
“They had to do what they had to do to save the team,” Brown said. “It’s hard not to take it personal because it’s your family business, and [people] always say it’s really hard going into business with your family. You never want to feel kicked to the curb and thrown to whatever you can get into.
“It’s one of those things that it’s your biggest fear. I don’t want to be removed from what I’ve spent my entire life building. I don’t want it taken away from me. But it had to be, and that’s like experiencing your worst fear.”
Admittedly, it’s driven a bit of a wedge between the father-son relationship, but Brown knows that it’s business.
“There’s a lot of things that happened over the offseason that I wanted nothing to do with,” the younger Brown said. “I didn’t want to be a part of it; I didn’t want to be the face of anything. I wanted to go drive.
“There’s no internal hate. Where we are, it’s that feeling of being forced into the position of do you want to keep driving or not? I wanted to keep driving. When those decisions are made, you want to understand but you can’t. It was hard and a lot of anger.”
Throughout the year, Brown has leaned on his girlfriend and Brandonbilt employee, Morgan Stone, for support. He said that she’s helped him focus and forget about the exterior chatter when he straps into the car on a given Saturday.
Brown has also leaned heavily on Mac MacLeod, founder and president of Fast Lane Media, Inc. The two are former roommates and have been friends since early 2020.
“He’s probably dealt with it as good as to be expected with the circumstance and box he’s been put in,” MacLeod said, “to where if you don’t have money coming into the team, that team is going to be forced to shut down. I think he was certainly frustrated and disappointed. I don’t think any other driver would say they were OK with losing the team that they’ve been building with since day one.”
Brown tries to turn negatives into positives. He’s mentioned in the past that he would always consider driving for a different team while still being part of the Brandonbilt family. Now, he has the chance to see what it’s like racing against the No. 68 team.
At Darlington Raceway, his third event away from the BMS group, he recalls nearly dooring Wright on the second lap. In most cases, Brandonbilt has better equipment than whatever Brown is competing in as of late, so it gives him a barometer of how well he’s doing in underfunded equipment, such as competing for BJ McLeod Motorsports.
“It feels good to beat them,” Brown joked. “It’s been different. It is a lot of fun and gives me a goal and hunger to go out and be the best that I can be and compete with them.”
In Brown’s five starts for three different teams — MHR, BJMM and Our Motorsports — he has a best finish of 17th at Kansas Speedway with Our. But that handful of races is highlighted by a 13th-place qualifying run at Bristol for BJMM, the team’s best ever qualifying effort with no outside help from other teams.
That impressed BJ McLeod, who sought after getting Brown into one of his rides.
“The biggest thing is all the success he’s had with his own team,” McLeod said. “I wanted to see if we could put something together because it’s what you do as an owner. You see a driver you like and you go after them.”
The Bristol qualifying effort was shocking for McLeod, but it even started in his first event at Watkins Glen International, when Brown drove the No. 78 car, which had failed to qualify in two previous road course races in 2022.
“It shows what Brandon is capable of, and one more reason why we asked him to come over,” McLeod added.”
Each deal Brown has put together has been “unique.” McLeod and Harmon asked him to drive their car, while he brought sponsorship to Our. Of the final five races of 2022 following Talladega, he will have at least two additional starts with BJMM: Charlotte ROVAL and Phoenix.
Brown’s focus, however, remains on showing “who Brandon Brown is and what Brandon Brown is about.”
“I want to go out next year and have enough sponsorship to put me in the best ride possible that will allow me the most opportunities to race for wins and essentially a championship,” Brown said of a perfect situation. “I want to brand myself as a race-winning driver. The underdog story has been fun, but I need to show the world who I am and that’s a winning driver.”