Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Matt Tifft To Miss Remainder of 2019 Cup Series Season

After experiencing a seizure this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Matt Tifft will miss the last three races on the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

Prior to the first round of practice for the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Tifft experienced a seizure and blacked out, resulting in being transported to local hospital. He has since been working with doctors to determine the exact cause for the incident.

Matt Crafton filled in for Tifft behind the wheel of the No. 36 Ford Mustang at Martinsville Speedway, finishing 25th. 

Front Row Motorsports announced on Tuesday that John Hunter Nemechek will run theh remainder of the schedule.

“We want to thank John Hunter for filling in Matt’s seat as he continues to recover,” said Jerry Freeze, General Manager, Front Row Motorsports. “Our thoughts are still with Matt and his family. We feel that John Hunter can step up and do a great job for us as Matt heals.”

Nemechek will make his Cup Series debut at Texas Motor Speedway following 48 starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with one win, 10 top-five’s and 27 top-10’s to his credit; he currently ranks 11th in the series standings.

“This isn’t the way any driver wants to make their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut,” said Nemechek. “I am hoping that Matt feels better and can get back in his car as soon as possible. That is what is important. Hopefully I can learn a lot and make Matt, the Front Row Motorsports team and its partners proud.”

This is not the first health scare for Tifft as he had surgery to remove a low-grade glioma in the brain in June 2016. He returned back behind the wheel three months later, making his Cup Series debut in the 2019 Daytona 500. He scored a season-best ninth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway in July.

Since the incident, Tifft has been a strong advocate for brain surgery awareness.

“I think it’s really incredible for how far I’ve come from that,” he told POPULAR SPEED in December 2018. “Even looking back on the 2017 season, there’s a lot of growth in there and it really took me until about halfway through that season to get back to feeling myself again off the track and that started to help me get better on the track again. There’s just a lot of changes and a lot of good things that has gone on since then.

“I love the advocacy work that I’ve been able to do. I’ve gone to Capital Hill and talk to congressmen and congresswoman about policy changes, and more funding for brain tumor awareness and research, so that’s been really rewarding. Being given a clean bill of health has been amazing and I’ve been very fortunate to have that, and being able to continue on my career which is something that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do again.

“Like I said before, doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to drive a racecar again. So to be able to have the opportunity to go into the Cup Series and race in the Daytona 500, I don’t think I would’ve believed that in 2016 if you told me that was going to happen in 2019. Just very thankful for that and I know now and I’ve taken my health more seriously. I feel that’s helped me a lot not only on the racing side, but just the general health side. I feel that carries over to brain health and everything. It’s been a journey transitioning and trying to put the pieces together ever since then and the recovery process.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Rookie Outlook: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

As has been the case for the last few seasons, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie class for 2019 is once again full of potential.

We have one of the sport’s most successful organizations looking to produce another playoff-caliber team, a driver who has proven himself after limited schedules in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, another who has overcome cancer to be here, and one who is looking for a fresh start with a relatively new team.

Daniel Hemric

The favorite to win the Rookie of the Year honors, Hemric will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Being the only rookie with a championship winning organization is not the only advantage he has though. The 27-year-old is the only one of the four drivers eligible for the award who has come close to winning a title, as he was able to qualify for the Championship 4 in both of his full-time seasons in XFINITY.

In addition to his playoff success, he was also able to produce 23 top-five’s and 39 top-10’s during his time in the series. However, his inability of to win may raise concerns as he transitions to Cup.

Ryan Preece

The story of Preece is an interesting one, as he sacrificed potential full-time XFINITY rides in lesser equipment for a part-time schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing.

In his 19 races with the team between 2017 and 2018, he was able to capture two wins and 15 top-10’s. Preece impressive efforts in the limited time he had ultimately landed his new ride at JTG-Daughtery Racing, where the 28-year-old will drive the No. 47 Chevrolet.

The question now is, will his proven talent be able to take this team to the next level?

Matt Tifft

Less than three years ago, Tifft was had to have surgery to remove a brain tumor. Now, he will be a full-time competitor in NASCAR’s top level, driving the No. 36 Ford for Front Row Motorsports.

Tifft to comes from XFINITY, where he has spent the last two season with JGR and RCR, where he tailed eight top-five’s and 22 top-10’s; however like Hemric, he was unable to find victory lane during his time in the series.

Unlike the rest of the full-time rookies, the 22-year-old has zero experience in Cup, and will make his debut at the Daytona 500.

Tanner Berryhill

After being away from NASCAR since 2015, Berryhill made his return to the sport last year with Obaika Racing running two races in Cup at the end of the season. The two will once again partner up in 2019.

Not only is it a rookie season for the driver, but for Obaika as well, who previously fielded entries in XFINITY. The team’s inexperience will not be the only hurdle to overcome though; they also enter the new year without a charter, meaning they will not be guaranteed a sport if an entry list has more than 40 entries.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS…… Matt Tifft

After placing sixth in the year-end XFINITY Series standings, Matt Tifft announced that he would drive a third entry for Front Row Motorsports in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2019. Recently, the 22-year-old spoke about the opportunity and more with POPULAR SPEED.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on the opportunity with Front Row Motorsports?

MATT TIFFT: It’s definitely a dream come true to be running in the Cup Series; that’s something that I’m looking forward to since we’ve made the announcement. I look forward to being able to jump in the seat and be apart of the series and make the next step. it’s certainly a huge opportunity and it was a great 2018 season that led into this next chapter. I know I’ll have some great veteran teammates in David Ragan and Michael McDowell so really looking forward to it.

PS: I guess the big question is why do you feel at this time you’re ready to step up to the top level?

MATT: I think it was a timing thing. At the end of this season, we had a lot of runs where we were competing with the Cup guys in the XFINITY Series and performing well, and made another deep run into the playoffs. Really, for us, it came down to the timing of looking at the steps to get into the Cup Series. We weren’t looking at that at the beginning of the year as something we probably going to do because the opportunity wasn’t presented then.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

But I think it makes sense with this new rules package to get in there. Everybody has a clean slate, and really I feel like going into Front Row Motorsports, they’re an up-and-coming team that has been getting better each year and I have some relationships there already. It kind of puts me in a comfortable spot going there. Obviously there will be some nerves going into my rookie year, but if you look at the last 12 or 15 races of the XFINITY Series season, we were competing with a lot of the good guys in the XFINITY Series that have been in the topic of drivers moving up for next year. For us, it just made sense to do it with the seats opening up and the timing just worked out perfectly to make the next jump.

PS: What are your goals and expectations?

MATT: I think the goal that’s kind of been put out is the rookie of the year race between myself, Ryan Preece, and Daniel Hemric. Judging off those guys, it’ll be a fun battle really, being teammates with each one of them before and it’s going to be cool to see how we all play out. With the new rules package, we don’t know where all the teams are going to shake out and being a mid-tier team in Front Row Motorsports, there’s a lot of potential upsides with the rule change.

Being realistic, I think we’re going to have a lot of days where I’m learning these longer races and how to manage them, but I think we’d like to target the top-20 in points and go after Rookie of the Year Award, and try to have a lot of good runs and earn the respect of other drivers. I’m not stupid; I know your first year in the Cup Series is a learning curve and there’s going to be things that are challenging as the year goes on. But I just need to be able to take that in, figure out teammates, and hopefully we all get better as the year goes on.

PS: What track are you looking forward to most?

MATT: I think going back to Martinsville. I haven’t ran there since the trucks a few years ago; that’s where I made my first truck series start. I’m excited to get back there. There’s so many other tracks on the schedule that the XFINITY Series does run, but I think going to Sonoma and Martinsville are probably the two I am looking forward to – especially Sonoma with the extended circuit now; I think that’ll be a fun challenge – just because I haven’t ran those two in awhile.

PS: Looking back on last year, what are your thoughts?

MATT: I thought it was a great season, especially the second half like I said. I felt like I gained a lot of confidence as a driver and improved through the second half and got into a good rhythm. Coming off a rookie year, you have to be able to take what you learned and get better and I felt like I was able to do that when we went back to tracks a second time. It was a really fun year for me working with RCR and that whole group.

It was probably one of the seasons that I have enjoyed the most in my career, and probably the best season of my career. So I’m coming off of that with a lot of confidence and hopefully that carries over to next year. I think it’s about honing on what I can do behind the wheel, and it was reassuring to have a great team with me that kind of got that confidence back in me.

MATTHEW THACKER | NKP

PS: What is one track you wish was on the schedule that currently isn’t?

MATT: I’m certain that I’d love to see more short tracks in there. I know there’s been some talk about Nashville so I’d love to see that on there. But I’ve been really successful at Road America so I’d love to see the Cup Series go there, but really any short track would be awesome to see the premiere series go back to. Of course I’m not the only driver saying that, but I know we’d all love to see that.

PS: If you were in charge of NASCAR for one day, what is one change you would make?

MATT: I would probably put someone else in charge. I don’t know if I’d want the responsibility as there’s way too many moving parts and people for me. I think I like my role as a driver as I love driving racecars, and that’s too much for me to handle.

PS: I remember it wasn’t long ago we were talking about brain surgery, and wondering what was next for you. Looking back on your journey as a whole and putting that in perspective, what does it mean to be at this point in your career?

MATT: Well, I think it’s really incredible for how far I’ve come from that. Even looking back on the 2017 season, there’s a lot of growth in there and it really took me until about halfway through that season to get back to feeling myself again off the track and that started to help me get better on the track again. There’s just a lot of changes and a lot of good things that has gone on since then.

I love the advocacy work that I’ve been able to do. I’ve gone to Capital Hill and talk to congressmen and congresswoman about policy changes, and more funding for brain tumor awareness and research, so that’s been really rewarding. Being given a clean bill of health has been amazing and I’ve been very fortunate to have that, and being able to continue on my career which is something that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do again.

Like I said before, doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to drive a racecar again. So to be able to have the opportunity to go into the Cup Series and race in the Daytona 500, I don’t think I would’ve believed that in 2016 if you told me that was going to happen in 2019. Just very thankful for that and I know now and I’ve taken my health more seriously. I feel that’s helped me a lot not only on the racing side, but just the general health side. I feel that carries over to brain health and everything. It’s been a journey transitioning and trying to put the pieces together ever since then and the recovery process.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

ASHLEY ASKS…… Matt Tifft

Competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series full-time for the first time in his career, Matt Tifft put together a solid season at Joe Gibbs Racing, placing seventh in the year-end standings with 13 top-10 finishes.

Now at Richard Childress Racing for 2018, the 21-year-old spoke about his thoughts entering the year and more.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts entering the year?

MATT TIFFT: I’m excited. It’s been probably the most fun off-season that I’ve had, and not even just away from the shop stuff, but just the feeling in the shop and working with this group so far. It’s been refreshing, and I’m just going into the new year with a completely new attitude about it. A completely new opportunity and situation, so I’m really excited. So everything feels really good, and really bright about it. It’s cool to have that side going into the season to start it off.

PS: How is the experience been for you in getting to know your new teammates?

MATT: Well, you know, the biggest thing for me is that when you go to a new organization, you’re learning so many people. I’m learning new faces, new names as I go in our meetings and everything. But Daniel Hemric is going to be really good to work with as a teammate. As a driver, he’s just so knowledgeable about the cars and very talented, so I think I’ll be able to lean on him a lot and learn from him in our competition meetings and in between practices.

But just as a whole, with my teammates on the (No. 2) team, they’ve been together for awhile. So it’s cool to see how jelled together they are, and how much they collaborate and work together and enjoy going into battle together. I think that’s rubbing off on me and as we get the season going, I have a really good feeling about us coming together and working together very well.  

PS: What are your goals and expectations?

MATT: You know, last year, as the year went, things kind of changed as I went. I struggled out of the gate more than I would’ve liked to, and I feel like the last part of the year, I really learned a lot and improved a lot. At Phoenix (now ISM Raceway), we were six or seven points from making the final four; we just didn’t have a great race there. But, we were really one race away from making the final four at Homestead(-Miami Speedway). So definitely taking a place in the Championship 4 is the ultimate goal, but the steps before that I think would be finishing inside the top-10 every weekend.

Like I said, at the end of last year, I feel like I did that a lot better, and I feel like the big thing is to be consistent week-in-and-week-out. I think going back to a lot of these places for the second or third time, and just running the series full-time for a second year in a row, I have a much better understanding of the flow and what I need to do week-in-and-week-out. I think from what I learned last year, I will be able to apply that a lot better to start off this year and be able to go in with a mindset of attacking and doing really well each week.

For the first part of the season, being consistent and getting top-10’s. But once we get kind of working together more and get past the first couple of weeks, it’ll be starting to compete in the top-five, starting to compete for wins, and at least be in the conversation is really big. Ultimately, I want to get my first win this year.

PS: What track are you most looking forward to?

MATT: I love Dover (International Speedway). It’s always been my favorite just because of the roller coaster that place is with the G-forces. I don’t know what it is about it with the concrete, but I’ve always liked it, which is weird because I’ve never got along with Bristol (Motor Speedway). But that place has just always been special to me and a place that I really enjoy going to. I feel like I have a good feel for the car there, so it’s always circled on my list.

But I’m excited to go back to some of these west coast places again to see how I do the second time around, and see how much I improve. California (Auto Club Speedway) was a really fun track, but also a really challenging track for me last year, so I’m excited about going back there, too, just to see how much I can improve from last year.

PS: Looking back on 2017, what are your thoughts on how the stage racing played out?

MATT: In the beginning, it was hard to understand how it would play out. But what I thought was the biggest key for me to learn this year was – really I didn’t do well the last few races of the year – just being able to capitalize on stage points. What ended up happening is for us, when we got to the playoffs, we had dug such a big hole because we hadn’t capitalized on stage position and points, and that put us in a hole going through the playoffs. So that’s a big thing this year is having an understanding of how the stages play out.

I think I got a lot better at it last year, and the encouraging thing is that RCR has always been really good with strategy and how to put yourself in good position for championship scenarios. So I think that is a really great thing about this team in how they utilize strategy to be able to further themselves in the season and their rank. But, it’s going to be cool for me to try that again with a new group, and really try to tackle that.

PS: So far, how have you been spending your off-season?

MATT: Well, I went to Ohio for a little bit. I went up there for Christmas, and after that, I went to West Palm Beach for a week. Then after that, I’ve been back here, getting back into training and getting back into the swing of things. Today, I’m doing my final seat fitting; we did a bunch of stuff at the beginning of the off-season as we get everything transitioned over to RCR. So, just been trying to get that rolling and working on sponsorship stuff, race packages for the season, and hopefully a lot of those pan out here soon.

But it’s been busy. There hasn’t been too much down timing. I think I had just the first week to slow down a little bit, so it’s been kind of hectic actually. I think almost starting the season will be a little bit of a relaxed period – what doesn’t make much sense, but it probably will still be in getting back into the routine of things.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
XFINITY

Battle for Final Transfer Position Tightens Following Texas

With two of the three races now complete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs Round of 8, the battle for the final spot in the Championship 4 is closer than ever.

The top three spots are taken by JR Motorsports drivers Elliott Sadler, William Byron, and Justin Allgaier. As long as they each have solid performances at Phoenix International Raceway next week, they will move on to the Championship 4, with each being 20 or more points ahead of fifth.

The next four positions, though, are only separated by a mere 18 markers from Brennan Poole in fourth, to Daniel Hemric in seventh.

Entering his second season with Chip Ganassi Racing, Poole has been solid throughout the year and now finds himself five points ahead of Matt Tifft for the final transfer position. Consistency has treated him well so far, with finishes of 12th (Kansas Speedway) and seventh (Texas Motor Speedway) treating him well.

Tifft has been right there with Poole in this round, though, posting a pair of eighth-place finishes as he embarks on his first full XFINITY Series campaign. Notably, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver experienced issues on pit road at Texas, having to begin the final stage at the tail of the longest line for his crew jumping over the wall too soon.

The finishes haven’t been as high for Cole Custer and Hemric, though. Custer finished 19th at Kansas, before fighting back from an unscheduled pit stop and a flat tire in stage one at Texas to place fifth. Hemric was 18th last weekend, and started off his trip to the lone star state on a sour note with a wreck in practice; he battled hard throughout the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, coming back from an issue with the gun on pit road at the end of stage two to finish 14th. With their struggles, the pair now sits 13 and 18 points back, respectively.

Ryan Reed is the last man in the round, currently 33 markers back due to a 10th at Kansas, and early contact with the wall resulting in a 23rd-place finish at Texas. Essentially, it’s win or bust for him entering Phoenix. 

So who is most likely to transfer?

Recall a win triumphs points any day, as well, and one of these drivers could score their first career series victory while punching their Homestead-Miami ticket.

If a win is out the picture, the upper-hand automatically goes to the pair with the least to gain to move on, which would be Poole and Tifft. Both are driving for top-notch teams in the series that have won races this year, with Poole having the better finish at Phoenix in the spring with an eighth.

However, like Tifft said post-race at Texas, it will be critical for both to have clean afternoons, so they don’t lose valuable track position.

“We’re bringing the speed, we just have to have a no mistake weekend in Phoenix,” he said. “We did our job tonight, we just need to get a few spots better at the end, and that’s all we can do.”

On the flip side, Hemric and Custer were both considered favorites to make the Championship 4 entering the playoffs due to being consistent through the regular season. Over the course of 2017, Custer has posted the third-highest amount of top-10’s with 17. If you are looking for a driver who can put up the numbers when they count, these are two drivers to watch. 

It could be any of these four making it through – or perhaps more than one if any of the JR Motorsports trio slips up.

Now going to the desert, there are two things for sure – every single point in the stages will matter, and it’s going to be a battle right until the checkered flag falls in the Ticket Galaxy 200. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
XFINITY

Hemric Returns to RCR Alongside New Teammate

Richard Childress Racing may be chasing a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship this year, but they’re already preparing for 2018. The muti-time champions confirmed their driver line-up on Thursday.

Daniel Hemric re-signed to drive the No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro for the second straight year. In his rookie campaign, he has scored five top-fives and 12 top-10’s, and is in position to advance to the Round of 8 in the XFINITY Series playoffs.

“It is always a special time when you can re-sign with a team like Richard Childress Racing that has done so much in our sport,” said Hemric.
“I’ve learned a lot from Richard both about racing and life in general, many lessons that I will never forget,” Hemric said. “While we still are contending for the XFINITY Series championship this year, and have unfinished business in the final five races, I’m fortunate that I will again be running for the Series championship in 2018 with RCR and Richard in my corner.”

RCR also announced Matt Tifft has jumped on board to drive the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro next season as part of a multi-year agreement. Tifft is currently in the midst of his rookie campaign with Joe Gibbs Racing, qualified for the playoffs, currently sitting seventh in the standings. 

“I am very appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to race for a championship and grow as a driver under one the most successful and historic teams in NASCAR,” said Tifft. “RCR has a long history of developing partnerships through its XFINITY Series program. I am looking forward to being a part of the family and applying what I have learned in my first full-time XFINITY Series season while continuing to grow with the goal of competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the future.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
XFINITY

Tifft Poised For Late Season Rebound

For Matt Tifft, 2017 hasn’t gone the way he had hoped.

Replacing the reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series Champion, Daniel Suarez, expectations were high for Tifft.Combined with five top-10’s during a partial schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016, considering him a championship contender wouldn’t have been out of the question.

However, Tifft has failed to meet the high bar set for him. Throughout the season, the 21-year-old has become an afterthought at JGR, especially with drivers like Kyle Benjamin and Ryan Preece battling nearing the front and winning races in limited opportunities with the team. While Tifft did contend for a victory at Road America and successfully made the playoffs, he just hasn’t competed at the same level as his teammates.

During phases like the one Virginia-native has gone through, it’s not uncommon for drivers to struggle to re-establish their footing. To Tifft’s credit, that’s not the case. He has shown signs of improvement as of late putting together three straight top-10’s, something the team hasn’t been able to do all season.

The most impressive of which came this past weekend at Dover, where after starting in the back and suffering damage early, he bounced back to scored stage points and finished sixth. Performances like these are what Tifft needs to be doing if he wants to remain in title contention. Now entering the first elimination race at Charlotte, he has a 12-point advantage over the cutoff.

Currently, Tifft’s plans for the 2018 season are unknown. He hasn’t resigned with JGR or agreed to a new deal with a different team. The final five races of the year are all that is set in stone. With multiple drivers that could take over his place, he needs to do whatever it takes to stay in a positive light and performances like Dover will contribute a lot to that cause.

There isn’t a lot of great openings in NASCAR, especially for a young driver like Tifft. The ride he has right now is the best shot that he may ever get and he must make the most of the opportunity in the remaining races.  A solid playoff push end to the year could be enough to erase an otherwise forgetful year and keep in a competitive ride moving forward.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

CLEMENTS: “It’s a Miracle” to Win

Jeremy Clements has been one of the most persistent racers in the NASCAR XFINITY Series through 256 career starts.

Driving for a small, family-owned operation provides its challenges as keeping up with the top performers in the series on a consistent basis is no easy task.

Despite the adversity, the No. 51 team continues to race each weekend, knowing their chance to succeed is unlikely.

It can happen, though, and did in Sunday’s Johnsonville 180 at Road America as Clements earned his first career victory.

Realistically, there are six races a season that provide smaller teams with an improved chance to excel as restrictor plate and road course events often even the playing field.

While Daytona, Talladega, and Watkins Glen provide that opportunity, the increased presence of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers further limits the potential for surprise contenders.

Standalone events at Mid-Ohio and Road America are different because the focus is on the series regulars. 

“These road courses are wild races,” Clements said. “This one and Mid-Ohio are the ones in my mind that I come and can do really good at. Top-five, top-10. Maybe even win like we did today. You don’t have Cup guys here. You got just the regular teams, and that just gives you a shot. The road courses are wild. A lot of stuff happens.”

It’s less about the quality of the equipment and more about the ability of the driver and strategy that the team uses during road course events.

Clements entered the race knowing it could be one of his best performances of the year but having no idea that he would end the day in Victory Lane.

“Obviously I drive for a small family team and to get a win in any of these starts is amazing,” Clements said. “It’s a miracle. Feels like a dream come true.”

The feat is even more impressive considering the teams that he beat.

JR Motorsports occupies the top three positions in the points standings and will have some of the strongest Playoff contenders but came closest with Michael Annett in second-place.

Joe Gibbs Racing led a combined 17 circuits but Clements chased down Matt Tifft in the closing laps, and Tifft ended up third.

Richard Childress Racing won three consecutive races at Road America leading into Sunday but was unable to showcase the strength expected of the organization.

For the No. 51 team to prevail, it attests to their hard work and determination, given the weekly challenges they face.

“It’s very hard,” Clements said. “We’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices. We run old stuff every week. This car was literally built in 2008.”

This victory will go down as one of the biggest upsets in XFINITY Series history. While rare, these moments define racing and highlight why all 40 teams compete every week.

Now the outlook on Clements’ season and career have changed. He will take part in the Playoffs this fall, something his team didn’t even think about before Sunday.

“I wasn’t even looking at the Chase because we were so far back and we didn’t really have a shot honestly unless we won,” Clements said.

Winning one race is a meaningful accomplishment, but now his career will be driven by the motivation to return to Victory Lane and taste the champagne for the second time. 

Will it happen? It’s anyone’s guess. But Sunday proved that it is possible.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Road Courses, Stage Racing Creating Drama Ahead of XFINITY Playoffs

When the calendar shifts to August, the NASCAR XFINITY Series begins to turn left and right.

The road to the Playoffs runs through Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, and Road America, and creates some of the most intense and exciting competition throughout the year.

While the abundance of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars at Watkins Glen took away from some chances that series regulars had to score big on the road course, Mid-Ohio delivered.

Not only did the absence of veteran racers allow series regulars to excel, but stage racing provided a new avenue to collect crucial points throughout each event.

Blake Koch earned the victory in Stage 1 at Mid-Ohio, capturing his second playoff point of 2017. Brennan Poole and Brendan Gaughan closely contested Koch for the stage win but ultimately settled for second and third respectively. 

Poole is fourth in the standings and has yet to collect a playoff point while Gaughan is in 11th with one point.

Gaughan is currently in a defensive position, protecting his post-season spot which makes every championship point matter and puts playoff points on the back burner. 

Poole is essentially locked into the final seven races and can now focus on accumulating bonus points.

The final road course event of the month at Road America will provide him that opportunity.

Other drivers looking to take advantage of this chance with Poole are Cole Custer, Matt Tifft, and Dakoda Armstrong as they seem to be in a position to compete for the championship but have yet to earn playoff points.  

The Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin venue will provide the chance to implement a different strategy through stage racing with hopes of earning those crucial points.

In the first year of the XFINITY Series Playoffs, every point mattered as eliminations came down to single digits. This makes collecting bonus points critical in the regular season, and Road America will provide one of best opportunities before Kentucky, making the event much more meaningful.

Placing all three road courses in one month and ahead of the post-season has created additional drama. Now with stage racing adding a whole new element, August has already produced captivating competition, and that should continue through Road America.

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JGR and BKR Sustain Suspensions Following Dover

Following Kyle Busch‘s 16th-place finish in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing received a safety violation penalty from NASCAR.

Crew chief Adam Stevens, tire changer Jacob Seminara, and tire carrier Kenneth Barber were suspended from all NASCAR Series Championship Points Events for four races after a tire fell off the No. 18 Toyota Camry leaving pit road. While experiencing trouble with the air gun, the jack dropped with Busch leaving pit road before the lug nuts were tightened on the left rear wheel.

The infraction falls under Section 10.9.10.4.c: Tires and Wheels and Section 12.5.2.6.3.c Minimum Safety Penalty Options of the NASCAR rule book. The rules were initially put in the rule book for safety reasons, to deter teams from leaving lug nut loose on a tire for a shorter pit stop.

Joe Gibbs Racing announced they would not appeal the penalty, with Ben Beshore serving as the interim crew chief.

Brad Keselowski Racing had a similar incident happen in the Friday’s Camping World Truck Series event on their No. 29 Ford 150 driven by Chase Briscoe. As a result, NASCAR suspended crew chief Mike Hillman Jr, tire carrier Eric Pinkiert and tire changer Wesley McPherson from all points-paying events for four races.

“We are disappointed in the penalty that Mike Hilman Jr. and members of our pit crew received following the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event in Dover,” BKR released in a statement. “We are currently considering our options under the appeal process outlined in the NASCAR rulebook. Buddy Sisco will serve as Chase Briscoe’s crew chief in the interim.”

NASCAR also issued a $5,000 fine to Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Matt Beckman as a result of a missing lug nut on the No. 19 XFINITY Series Toyota driven by Matt Tifft.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.