Hanging out with owner-mentor Hamilton makes Chaffin better driver DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 7, 2004) -- Chad Chaffin (No. 18 Dickies Dodge) never has doubted his abilities as a racer. But he'll tell you that turning skills into stardom requires...
Hanging out with owner-mentor Hamilton makes Chaffin better driver
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 7, 2004) -- Chad Chaffin (No. 18 Dickies Dodge) never has doubted his abilities as a racer. But he'll tell you that turning skills into stardom requires more than self-confidence. Or, put another way, it's as much who you know as what -- in this case NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teammate and mentor Bobby Hamilton (No. 4 Square D Dodge).
"It's like when you hang out with someone who is successful you learn how to be successful," said Chaffin, whose fortunes definitely are upward bound entering Saturday's The Built Ford Tough 225 presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers at Kentucky Speedway. "When you hang out with a really good driver you pick up things. You see how he does things differently.
"I feel like I'm a better driver than when I came into this deal." The record speaks for itself. A year ago, Chaffin made a few ripples -- two Bud Poles and five front row starts -- but no crashing waves. The Smyrna, Tenn., driver was third at Michigan but unsatisfied with a 10th-place championship finish.
Two months ago and five races into the 2004 season, everything changed. Chaffin scored his first victory at Dover International Speedway and hasn't looked back. A run of five consecutive top 10 finishes -- he has seven overall, two shy of last year's total - has elevated Chaffin from 15th to sixth in the point standings.
"I've felt all along that I was a driver capable of winning races and running for the championship," said Chaffin, who celebrates his 36th birthday July 20. "We've had a really good run lately and I feel like we're in the top tier."
Crew chief Kip McCord believes this season has had two turning points -- the most important one in Atlanta, where Hamilton scored his first of two victories.
"He made us all look bad. We had virtually the same truck that he had; the one he won Homestead with," said McCord. "I was mad when I left there because we didn't run well (ninth). So we started getting serious about what we wanted and what Chad wanted.
"We really looked for help from engineering, so that race was a big stepping stone for us. In Charlotte I think it finally clicked that we had a really fast truck and now we understand what Chad likes and [what he] doesn't."
Chaffin's new-found success is three-sided. Driver, crew chief and owner are what you'd call hard-core racers. Chaffin is comfortable with the term "old-school," but believes it might be oversimplification.
"Even before I drove I would hear of some things that they would do -- I mean, this was some crazy, off-the-wall stuff," he said. "So even though he (Hamilton) is 'old-school' he has never been timid about trying new stuff. I think that the fact he wants to try something different has really given our engineers a lot of room to work with.
"The whole development of the truck we have now is all because we wanted to do something different from everybody else. That has helped our team out a lot."
Chaffin has several reasons for wanting to win this week's stop at Kentucky Speedway.
"I like Kentucky (and) it's our second best-paying race," said Chaffin, reflecting on a potential winner's check of $75,000. "I always look at the money. The glory is the big thing and the close second is the money. I really like the track and it's not far from home."
But Chaffin will be satisfied even if he finishes behind owner Hamilton -- so long as both teams are competitive. Hamilton is third in the title race, 61 points behind leader Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado Chevrolet) following his second-place finish July 3 at Kansas Speedway.
"No matter who wins in our organization, it's a plus for the entire group," he said of BHR, which counts three wins, seven top fives and 14 top 10s in 2004. "In all reality, if both teams do well and we're both successful, then we keep getting sponsorship opportunities and keep our jobs." It's hard to argue that logic.