Before the age of high-tech racing simulators, public relations handlers and lucrative driver development deals, the top ranks of NASCAR featured grinders like Grant Enfinger.
This 34-year-old native of Fairhope, Alabama, toiled as a jack-of-all-trades racer on short tracks across the East Coast while idolizing the late Davey Allison.
That’s one reason why so many NASCAR insiders were happy when Enfinger won the regular season title for the Truck Series last week.
"I do feel like I’ve paid my dues," said Enfinger in a Wednesday morning phone interview. "I’ve been racing most of my life, and I’ve made a living at this for the last 12 years. I’ve probably earned some respect with that background."
Enfinger also earned the spotlight for tonight’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. While Enfinger is still searching for his first win of the season, he’s already earned 15 points for this playoff opener.
"Man, a win at Bristol would be huge not just from the playoff standpoint but for my pride," Enfinger said. "Growing up racing on the local level, Bristol was viewed as the holy grail of short tracks. Everybody wanted a win at Bristol."
Eight drivers earned the right to make a playoff push over the next seven races, including former champions Brett Moffitt, Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton along with 18-year-old Tyler Ankrum from San Bernardino, California.
"There’s definitely a diverse group of drivers in this series," Enfinger said. "You’ve got the veterans who worked for years to get where they are. And you have the young guys who maybe got picked up by a manufacturer or had their family pay their way.
"I’m somewhere in between those groups."
The 2015 ARCA Series champion, Enfinger is in his third season with the Ohio-based ThorSport team owned by Duke and Rhonda Thorson. He earned his second career victory last year en route to a fifth place finish in the series standings.
Enfinger credits homespun crew chief Jeff Hensley for his emergence. The 56-year-old Hensley, from Ridgeway, Virginia, is one of the few holdovers from the glory days of the old Busch Grand National Series.
As a guy who has done everything from drive the team transporter to work as a mechanic in the race shop, Enfinger can speak a common language as Hensley.
"This is very engineering-driven sport, but Jeff and I both just simple racers," Enfinger said. "We try not to overthink things. With my background, I can communicate to Jeff what parts or areas we need to be working on during a race. We have a special bond, and we’ve had it for three years."
The biggest variable at Bristol Motor Speedway deals with the traction compound applied in the corners of the track. In the past five NASCAR weekends, track officials have attempted to generate more passing by using a substance called PJ1 at the bottom of the track.
While other drivers continue to grumble over the lack of consistency of the "sticky stuff," Enfinger has adapted.
"I don’t think we need to use the traction compound at every track, but I kind of like what they’ve done at Bristol the past couple years," Enfinger said. "The really good trucks have been able to work the third groove with no traction compound, and then everybody else kind of goes with the sticky stuff on the bottom. It makes for good racing."
To the relief of series regulars and many fans, five-time BMS Truck race winner Kyle Busch is not eligible to compete in tonight’s event due to the playoff format.
Enfinger doesn’t feel the tonight’s drama will suffer from the loss of Busch. He said the playoff factor compensate will amp up the intensity level for one of the most popular events on the truck schedule,
"Like we needed more excitement at Bristol, huh," Enfinger said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some ruffled feathers after the race. Hopefully, we can stay out of the drama and dial up a win."
The Abingdon, Virginia, based Henderson Motorsports team will return to their home track tonight with NBC Sports Network analyst Parker Kligerman in the No. 75 Food Country Chevrolet. In five career starts at BMS, Kligerman has crafted an average finish of 8.8, with a fourth place effort last season.
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