Tifft Battles Back from One Lap Down At Charlotte To Continue Playoff Run
On Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR XFINITY Series Rookie driver Matt Tifft continued the momentum he began building in September, scoring his fourth consecutive top ten finish after coming back from a lap down to take 9th place in the Drive for the Cure 300 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.
After starting the season with an average finish of 19 over the first three races, Tifft entered the Drive for the Cure 300 on a string of three top ten finishes with an average finish of 7th. He was seeking some level of redemption at Charlotte after a disappointing visit to NASCAR’s home track in the Spring, when he qualified 19th and finished the race in the 26th position.
The 21-year-old began the weekend on a positive note Friday, ending at 5th fastest in opening practice, then moving up to 3rd quickest in the final practice session. Weather, however, would have a big effect on Tifft’s race Saturday, with rain forcing the cancellation of qualifying and delaying the start of the race from from 3:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Starting from the 14th position with the field set by car owner points, Tifft and his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing MotoRad Toyota team worked to improve the handling of the car on pit stops throughout the first two segments [90 laps] of the 200 lap race. Although the car had found good speed during the daytime, Tifft was not able to work his way into the top ten during stages 1 and 2. Early in stage 3 a vibration forced an unscheduled, green flag pit stop, just past the halfway point of the race. An uncontrolled tire during the stop would then add to the team’s issues. Serving the penalty by restarting from the back of the field on the caution resulting from the uncontrolled tire, Tifft found himself in the 30th position, one lap down. Quickly racing his way into the free pass position, he gained his lap back during the following caution period 15 laps later. Pit strategy, with he team giving their driver fresh tires when the rest of the field was on older tires, allowed Tifft to work his way forward. Once inside the top ten, he was able to maintain his position and take the checkered flag in the 9th position.
“Unbelievable how many things we had to fight through to end up p9 tonight. Definitely have a group of guys who don’t give up,” Tifft commented on Twitter following the race.
Tifft, who began his racing career in go karts in 2007, had his first season of XFINITY Series racing with Joe Gibbs Racing interrupted last year when he was diagnosed with a low-grade brain tumor in June. After surgery, however, he had a remarkable recovery and returned to racing last September. He recently announced he will continue his development as a NASCAR XFINITY Series competitor in 2018, with the new year bringing a move to Richard Childress Racing, where it has been reported that he has signed a multi-year agreement. Next year he will pilot the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro as a teammate to Daniel Hemric, who will be returning to the team for his second year in the series.
The 9th place finish was enough to avoid Playoff elimination, placing Tifft in the field eight which will continue to pursue the championship at the upcoming races in Kansas, Texas and Phoenix. That field will be cut to four following Phoenix, with those four drivers battling for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Wherever Matt Tifft ends up this year, expect him to continue to show the driving ability and maturity which got him to this point this year, and once again be a championship contender in 2018.
/ Top photo credit: Getty Images via NASCAR Media /
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