DOVER, Del. – Saturday’s ‘Use Your Melon’ Drive Sober 200 was a long, steady climb upward for NASCAR XFINITY Series rookie Matt Tifft, culminating with a top-10 finish at Dover Int’l Speedway.
Tifft, who made the 12-driver playoff field this season in his first full-time season, was buried at the back for the start of the 200-mile race after a flat tire following the first round of knockout qualifying necessitated a tire change.
That relegated Tifft to the tail of the field for the initial start, where he was almost swept up in disaster early on after being hit from behind by Jeff Green and nearly collected by a spinning Brandon Jones at lap six, an incident that drew the first caution flag of the afternoon.
Tifft ducked to pit road so his Joe Gibbs Racing crew could survey the damage, receiving minimal repairs before returning to the track and restarting again from the tail of the field.
He methodically worked his way through traffic from there, finishing the first stage in 16th and just missing out on stage points in the second stage, crossing the line in 11th just three tenths of a second behind teammate Erik Jones.
The rest of the race was a 73-lap marathon run to the checkered flag, in which Tifft gained speed all the way through the final stage and worked his way up to sixth, where his No. 19 Comcast/Salute to Service Toyota finished in the end.
Following the race, Tifft was pleased with his team’s effort and cited that their fight back was crucial in terms of staying in contention to advance further in the playoffs.
“Man, this was a great day for our team,” said Tifft. “We just need to keep that consistency rolling through next week in Charlotte. Nothing’s set in stone yet, but if we can keep plugging away like we are right now, we should be alright.”
“I wouldn’t say we unloaded the best we have all year by any means, but we just kept working on it and working on it and by the end of second practice (on Friday), our car was pretty spot on. I knew we were going to have a good piece, but I knew there was going to be a lot of work to be done. You got to be super patient too, just trying to fight back from that far back.”
As a result of his rally, Tifft held on to the seventh spot in the playoff standings and gained four additional points over the cutoff line heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Tifft is 14 points clear of elimination with only the Drive for the Cure 300 remaining in the Round of 12, a solid position considering the bad luck that he and his team have had to come back from at times during the season.
“We’ve fought through some adversity this year. We’ve been up and down. I knew that we were going to have to fight up from the back,” Tifft said. “Getting hit there at the beginning of the race, I was a little bit worried. It is just so cool to get ourselves into position at the end of the race. It puts us in a better position heading into Charlotte. I’m really proud of this team and the way they’ve been able to step up lately.”
Likely, one final solid race will be enough to lock Tifft into the Round of 8, something he believes his team is capable of after stringing together three-straight top-10 finishes.
“I think we’ve been riding a wave of consistency and that’s what we’ve needed all year,” added Tifft. “We’ve been there, but we’ve just had things happen that kept us from being able to put it all together. I wish it would have been there all year, but it’s a good time to get it going.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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