Optimistic Chaffin getting in gear for Food City 250

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Looking for his first win in the NASCAR Busch Series, Smyrna's Chad Chaffin was testing the high banks at Bristol on Monday driving his Day Enterprises Chevrolet in preparations for next Friday night's Food City 250.
   Chaffin and the Wayne Day-owned team has raced off and on in the Busch Series since 1993. Last season, Chaffin ventured out with the Team Rensi U.S. Marines sponsored Chevys. Although Chaffin had moderate success, the team decided on a driver switch at mid-season. Chad also competed for Hensley Motorsports in 2001, before moving back to familiar surroundings.
   "We just get along real well," Chaffin explained as the reason he and the 31W Insulation team are still together. "I just enjoy driving for them. It would have to be a really good offer to pull me away from this team. We're just like family. We're out here trying our hardest like everybody else, but they know I'm giving them my best and I know they're giving me their best.
   "We're not at each other's throats on Saturdays asking why the car is not running faster. We're out here having fun at the same time, we're racing."
   Chaffin's best start in 69 Busch Series starts is an eighth at his home track of Nashville. His best career finish is a 12th place posted at Atlanta.
   This season has been a struggle as Chaffin is setting 32nd in the series standings after running in 16 races.
   For Chaffin, struggling in NASCAR's number two circuit is frustrating. Here's a guy who has almost 70 Late Model wins over his driving career, including 39 at the famed Nashville Speedway. A two-time track champ at the speedway which has produced so many big-name drivers, Chaffin's 39 feature wins there ties him with Coo Coo Marlin for fifth place on Nashville's all-time win list.
   "I absolutely miss running at the old Fairgrounds speedway," said Chaffin. "The last race I was there was in the Craftsman Truck Series and I ran third in it. I'm supposed to race down there the Tuesday after the Bristol race, as they're having a legends night, where I'm invited to come back. So, I'm looking forward to going down there."
   Before Nashville, Chaffin started racing in 1981 at Highland Rim Speedway in White House, Tenn. He was a top runner at that 3/8 mile facility scoring 27 wins. Chaffin has also found success in touring series outside of the Busch Series, evident by his three wins in the Hooters Pro Cup Series.
   He points out his current team does well considering the resources they are working with. It is notable that the Day team has only six employees and is often racing against teams with strong Winston Cup connections.
   "This Busch-level racing is like other sports," said Chaffin. "Like baseball, the New York Yankees have the biggest payroll and we're up against the same thing. Take our budget and match it against the top ten teams' budgets and you see why we're not as fast as what they are. Realistically, right now we are a 25th to 30th place team and the last four races, we have finished in the mid-20's.
   "We feel like we're creeping into a mid-20th place team and if we can get into a top 20 team, we would be doing exceptionally well. Right now, we're living up to our potential. We have a little ways to go to get to that next level, but we're getting stronger every week and learning more. The top teams don't quit developing. They keep learning. We keep improving at the same rate they are, and I feel we are even gaining on them some. Before this year, we want some top 20 finishes and to pull up in the top 30 in points."
   The No. 16 team hails from Goodlettsville, a town famous for being the home to country music stars Garth Brooks and Lorrie Morgan. Come race day, the only music they are interested in is the sweet sound of the engine roaring at full speed. That's something that can't be said for all the teams on the Busch tour, as some have merely showed up this season for appearance money and then parked their cars after running a few laps.
   "I understand where they are having to come from," said Chaffin. "But, we are out there to race. Some weeks we may miss the set-up and have to take a provisional, but we're still there to race and finish every lap we can. I don't mind what they are doing, but I hate to see someone who is trying to make the race get sent home, when they are just going to make a few laps.
   "But, that's the system. Everyone out here is trying to make a living and I don't begrudge anyone for doing what they have to do. The top teams have plenty of sponsorship money to race on and the winnings are icing on the cake, but we put our race winnings back into the team."
   As for Day himself, the Food City 250 is much more than just a companion event to the following night's Winston Cup race.
   "We're going to draw over 100,000 people to this race," stated Chaffin. "To me, this is the biggest Busch race of the year. When you come to Bristol, you know it's going to be a knock-down, drag-out. The excitement and all the fans, I like this race more than any other we have all year. I even like it better than the season-opener Daytona, which is considered by many the biggest race of the year. I like my chances here."
   Among others testing on Monday included former ASA champion Butch Miller, who is in his second stint driving for the Abingdon-based No. 75 Food Country team. Miller drove for the Day Motorsports team in the early 90's and was sharing advice with Chaffin on getting around Bristol's 36 degree turns. Also on hand for the Monday test session were drivers Kelly Sutton and Mike Sider, who will compete in the Dash Series event next Wednesday that kicks off the week of racing.
   Testing will continue today at BMS as teams prepare for next week's big events.