Last year, Grant Enfinger was the model of consistency in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, winning the regular season title and posting an average finish of 8.5. However, he failed to win any races and was eliminated from the playoffs when his Ilmor engine failed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This season, Enfinger’s average finish is down two spots and he missed out on the regular season title. But he’s already won a career-high three times, including the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and finale this past weekend at Richmond Raceway.
Enfinger, who enters the playoffs this Thursday, Sept. 17, as the No. 4 seed, is currently in his fourth full-time season with ThorSport Racing, a team featuring Truck champions Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter. Enfinger’s No. 98 differs from ThorSport’s other three entries though, as it is the only one partially owned and sponsored by Mike Curb and his record label company Curb Records. In addition to being big in the music scene, Curb also has a storied past in the racing world. He was a partial owner for Dale Earnhardt’s first championship and owner for Richard Petty’s 200th win.
Frontstretch caught up with Enfinger to discuss his season, his relationship with Sauter and Crafton, his interactions with Curb and future plans.
Michael Massie, Frontstretch: Last year, you won the regular season title and were the model of consistency, but you didn’t win. This year, you’ve won, but the consistency hasn’t been there. Do you feel better entering the playoffs this year having those wins, or were you more confident last year with that regular season title?
Grant Enfinger: I don’t know. I feel good about our speed and our execution on our good days. The problem is we’ve been a little bit, I guess sloppy would be the best way to [describe it]. And we haven’t made big, huge mistakes, but we’ve made little ones, whether it’s me speeding on pit road or not having a good restart when we need it or a call not going our way. Little stuff has kind of taken us out more so this year. Whereas last year, I felt like if things went wrong, we were able to overcome it pretty quickly.
I feel better about it in certain aspects. When we have our good days, I feel we’re as good as anybody out there. We just have to clean up our little mistakes and get down to business when it gets serious for the playoffs.
Massie: The thing that dashed your championship hopes last year was the Las Vegas heat causing engine problems. Do you think the kinks have been worked out in that department?
Enfinger: Yeah, they just had the tune wrong on those engines at Vegas. But I feel like obviously that was an eye-opener for everybody, and I don’t see that happening again. Those guys [Ilmor] have worked hard to ensure that the competitors don’t get put in that situation again.
Daytona [road course] was an extremely hot race. In all honesty, road courses are probably the hardest on engines more so than, I would consider them harder on engines than a mile-and-a-half, just for the fact that there’s so much shifting, chances for over revving and wheel hopping and all that kind of stuff. There were a few little electrical gremlins, it seemed like, but from a motor standpoint, it seemed like everything held up really good at Daytona.
Massie: You live in Kannapolis, N.C., and you’re team is in Ohio, so how has that shifted things for you during the pandemic?
Enfinger: Much like the teams in North Carolina, ThorSport Racing was shut down for about the same timeframe. It was obviously state mandated, but the way everything worked out, we were shut down about the same as all the shops in North Carolina. So that was pretty comparable.
I feel like maybe at the very beginning part of that schedule, the travel was harder on our guys. They were trying to have the races closer to around the Charlotte area. The original goal was for it to be within driving distance so they wouldn’t have to have hotel rooms and too much time on the ground in the very beginning. I feel that probably hurt us a little bit just from a travel perspective. But by the time we get through the rest of the schedule, it’s going to pretty much even out. But man, it was tough on everybody, obviously.
I think myself and Jeff Hensely (crew chief), we went over what we thought was going to be the schedule 100 times until finally we just cried ‘uncle’ and said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to talk about this anymore. When they post it, they’re going to post.’ But Henseley prides himself on being prepared ahead of time and having all his ducks in a row. … He knows what’s going where a long ways ahead of time. Obviously, he’s had to think on his feet the way everything’s turned out. But overall, I feel like our guys have done good through all of it.
Massie: One distinction you have from your teammates is your truck has Mike Curb listed as the owner. What is his involvement is you’re your truck?
Enfinger: It really doesn’t operate any differently. Mike Curb and Duke Thorson have a long relationship. Mike has been involved in motorsports in general for over 50 years. It’s incredible. If you just Google his name and see all he has done in obviously the music industry, he’s a legend. But also in motorsports, everything from Richard Petty’s 200th win to being with Dale Earnhardt, the list goes on and on. His car was on the pole for the Indy 500 this year. This guy is so involved in all levels of motorsports. Big into open wheel stuff, dirt stuff, everything. He’s definitely a blessing to us.
We don’t see him that often. We see him a few times a year. He pretty much stays in Nashville. But we do get him to some races, and Daytona is normally a big one for him. But his involvement is definitely a big deal on this No. 98 team.
And if you’re ever around this area, he’s actually got a museum in Kannapolis. There’s basically music memorabilia from all the guys that were on his label and everybody that has come through North Carolina as well through the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. But also a lot of those cars are here that he’s had involvement with. It’s pretty cool.
Massie: Have there been any perks of having a music giant like him involved with your team?
Enfinger: Some cool artists on the truck. We’ve been fortunate enough to have some artists involvement over the years. I think it was Jerrod Niemann who was on the truck last year at Atlanta, and he had a pre-race concert for everybody in the fan zone. Tim Dugger is obviously doing a lot in NASCAR and the music industry for a while now. He was on the truck when we won at Atlanta [Motor Speedway].
Curb had a big deal last year in Nashville when the Cup banquet was around. He’s very heavily involved as far as connecting all those dots with artists and with racing. And there’s always been a huge connection between country music and racing. I feel like Mike Curb is probably a lot of that reason behind of scenes of why you have that connection.
Massie: You’ve got two of the longest tenured and most decorated drivers as teammates in Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton. I’m sure that has plenty of benefits, but do you feel you get overlooked because the spotlight is on them so much?
Enfinger: Not really. I feel like when we’re running where we’re supposed to be running, they look at us and talk about us just fine. Maybe when we’re having an off day, they’re going to scroll right past us and go to one of those other guys or whatever. But Duke has quite a stable of, not just drivers, but crew chiefs and so many good people there. I feel like all of that is a benefit, especially when we’re practicing and all that. Obviously, that’s not the case this year, so we’re not really debriefing with each other like we kind of normally would. But overall, it’s a benefit.
Massie: I know these Truck Series deals always come pretty late in the year, but have you signed to come back with ThorSport next year?
Enfinger: No, not officially signed or anything like that, but that’s the direction everybody’s headed. I hope to say that I’ve kind of found a home here. Everybody’s working the same direction. But yeah, stuff comes together late. We won’t officially have any word for a while. …They seem to be happy with everything we’re doing. Curb Records, Mike Curb and those guys seem to be happy with the direction everything’s headed.
Something maybe a lot of people overlook during this pandemic is the activations, specifically what we do, but a lot of sponsorships are not just based on the on-track and the TV, but a lot of the fan engagement and all that we haven’t been able to do this year. And that’s huge for Champion Power Equipment. We try to drive around the campgrounds and thank guys who have Champion Power Equipment and talk to guys that don’t, tell them about the brand. We haven’t been able to do that this year, so that’s big. But obviously, [Champion] understands the situation.
It’s tough in a lot of aspects, and I know in that kind of same ballpark. Something I don’t feel like many people are talking about, but it is a big deal from a sponsorship aspect.
Massie: It looks like you’re staying in Trucks, but are you content there, or are you looking at all if there’s an Xfinity opportunity that opens up?
Enfinger: I love the Truck Series, and like I said, I’ve hopefully found a little bit of a home here at ThorSport Racing. I want to keep going down the road we’re on and win Truck championships and, more so than win Truck championships, is dominate seasons. Obviously with the way the playoff format is, that doesn’t always align. But to go out there and be a threat and be the one to beat in the Truck Series is what’s on my mind.
But you know, I’ve been racing for a long time now, and I’ve come to the realization about seven or eight years ago that I don’t make my own plans. I will roll with the punches, and God’s blessed me with a lot of great opportunities along the way. And I hope to stay here, but who knows what happens next.
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.