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XFINITY SERIES: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here’s a peek at Texas through Charlotte.

Cup Driver Domination

While there were five winners from five different teams in the first two months of XFINITY Series competition, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took over victory lane through April and May.

Joe Gibbs Racing went two in a row with Erik Jones winning Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway to bring their title win total up to three. Kyle Larson snagged a second win for Chip Ganassi Racing at Richmond, with Aric Almirola giving Biagi-DenBeste Racing a victory at Talladega. Lastly, Ryan Blaney scored the win this past weekend at Charlotte for Team Penske’s second of 2017.

Although Cup Series drivers swept the past two months, the series regulars were close to succeeding with a pair of runner-ups.

As we near the Chase, there will be more XFINITY competitors scoring victories with the upcoming stand-alone events, including Iowa Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

JRM Remains at the Top

10 events completed this season, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much as JR Motorsports still take up the top three positions as they have since the third race of 2017.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, currently six points ahead of Justin Allgaier. William Byron rounds out the squad, having fallen 57-markers behind Sadler.

Their strength shows in the numbers, with Allgaier posting the best average finish through April and May at 9.8 on the heels of two runner-ups, while Sadler posted the second highest at 11.6. Sadler has performed better, though, as removing the wreck at Charlotte bring his average down to 5.75.

JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway with Michael Annett currently ninth in points. While he posted, three top-10’s in the past five events, a wreck at Charlotte Motor Speedway hurt progress in moving forward.

Terrific Tifft

If you are looking for someone to watch, keep an eye on Matt Tifft as he was the third-highest performer over the past three races, boasting an average of 14.2 with a season-best finish of sixth at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is running the complete schedule for the first time, after making 11 starts over the past two years with five top-10’s. With steady improvement each week, he believes he could be the next driver to score his first career victory.

“There’s so much that goes into competing for wins in this series, and I feel like we’re getting close to being able to do that,” he told Popular Speed last month. “You have to build from somewhere, and I felt that Texas was great for us to build from a solid run. You have to have that as a team to build everybody’s confidence up and to be able to keep on rolling through the next stretch here. As you know, we have a couple of weeks here and then a few weeks off, but after that, there are 20 something weeks in a row, and you better be hitting it by then.”

Chase Bubble Watch

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series Chase, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in.

Sitting 10th in points, Blake Koch only has scored one top-10 this year, but having 62 points over J.J Yeley in 13th should have him and those ahead confident in their chances. With that said, the current outlook includes Sadler, Bryon, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Tifft, Annett and Koch joining the pair of aforementioned winners.

Cole Custer has scored three top-10’s this year, but wrecks at Bristol and Talladega have slipped him back to 11th in the standings, currently 54 points ahead of Yeley.

Dakoda Armstrong has yet to score a top-10 this season and only has a 36-marker gap to keep the final qualified spot.

The shock of the bubble watch is Richard Childress Racing teammates Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan sitting 15th and 16th. With at least 37 points to make up a piece, they will need to start performing or find victory lane during the summer to keep their hopes alive.

No Consistency for Custer

Although Custer’s name was mentioned in the bubble watch, he is a driver who should qualify for the Chase – if he performs to expectations.

With 10 races in the books for 2017, he has posted three top-10’s as noted, including a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
Each weekend, he places the No. 00 Ford in the top-10 with intentions of a solid finish. However, wrecks and pit penalties have resulted in five finishes outside of the top-20 this season.

Custer acknowledged their struggles, saying they needed to get better.

“We had pretty solid cars the last couple weeks, and even in Atlanta we had a good car just haven’t gotten the finishes,” he said in April. “We haven’t done that. It was me making mistakes and just having random things happen. If we can keep these solid runs going, we will work our way back up there in the points. I feel like we can do this. We have had fast cars the last couple of weeks. We will just keep plugging away at it.”

Being a new team in the series, Stewart-Haas Racing has shown they can run up front on a weekly basis. But if consistency doesn’t start happening, they could fall outside of the Chase cut-off.

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.

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XFINITY

Matt Tifft Hopes Familiarity Leads to Another Top-10

Matt Tifft knew entering this year’s NASCAR XFINITY Series season, it would take some time to get familiar with the car and tracks, along with crew chief Matt Beckman. Everything is coming together, though, as he scored his first top-10 of 2017 a couple of weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I think so far we’ve had a lot of positives come out of our races,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “We haven’t had the finishes we wanted every week, but I thought Texas was a big step in the right direction for us getting our first top-10 as a team. The other races we should’ve finished there but didn’t end up sealing the deal. So that was a big baby step for us.”

He now hopes to carry the momentum into this weekend’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. With rain in the forecast, Tifft admits one of his initial concerns is a possible lack of practice.

“I got to race there last spring, so luckily I do have a little track experience,” he said. “Bristol is a fun race, but always very intense too, so it’s a little bit unpredictable; you have to be very much up on the wheel there. It’s always a little crazy.”

This weekend marks a significant opportunity as Bristol is one of the four Dash for Cash events this season, following Phoenix Raceway in March.

“It’s great that XFINITY puts that on for the series; it’s a chance for some of the younger drivers to shine with those races and having Richmond the week after for two in a row, so you have to be able to capitalize on those races,” he said. “Short track races are where a lot of us young guys come from. So being able to perform there where you don’t have as many seasoned Cup guys in there, it gives you a little bit of a better chance to have a good run in the finishing positions. But, it’s a cool program that we get to do, and it’s great to have a partner in the series that allows us to go out and compete for a $100,000, which is a pretty neat opportunity that not all series have.”

Tifft has run a pair of races at Bristol previously, finishing 23rd in last year’s XFINITY event for JGL Racing, and ninth in the K&N Pro Series East in 2014. He will be racing this weekend’s K&N Pro Series East event, as well.

“Anytime you go to a track and have laps there and know how it generally races, it’s a huge help,” he said. “Part of the beginning of the 2017 season was going to tracks that I’ve never been to before in an XFINITY car before. When you have that experience from the past, it’s nice to be able to have some sort of an idea of how to get around cars, and how the race will generally play out. It’s a more comfortable feeling going into that event.”

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver feels more top-10s are just on the horizon, with him and Beckman getting used to each other. Beckman got promoted to Tifft’s crew chief after serving as Denny Hamlin’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series engineer in 2016.

“I think the big thing is just being able to adapt to track changes,” he said. “We have a different downforce package this year, which is not too crazy. But I think the biggest thing is understanding what when I say some number of a change that I need in the car or giving feedback, just for him to give an adjustment that’s not too much or too little.”

The Chemistry, combined with track familiarity compared to the first seven races this season have Tifft confident.

“There’s so much that goes into competing for wins in this series, and I feel like we’re getting really close to being able to do that,” he said. “You have to build from somewhere, and I felt that Texas was great for us to build from a solid run. You have to have that as a team to build everybody’s confidence up, and to be able to keep on rolling through the next stretch here. As you know, we have a couple weeks here and then a few weeks off, but after that, there are 20 something weeks in a row, and you better be hitting it by then.”

He also knows improvement needs to continue behind the wheel, as seen by his restarts already this year.

“They weren’t that great at the beginning of the season,” he said. “I feel I’m getting to a point where I’m competitive with them as at Texas, they were solid all day long. There’s definitely things fundamentally as a driver I am getting better at.

“One of the things that I feel we need to get better at, not necessarily for a top-10 finish, but being able to capitalize on stage points, and running better early in the race, and getting better qualifying runs as well. That just sets you up so much better than having to fight back and some of our races this year, we’ve been a little bit off on handling in the first stage and had to play strategy cards to be in a position in the third stage to go for a top-10. But you’re kind of putting yourself in a few bad spots there. So we have to minimize that, and I have to minimize mistakes as a driver.”

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.

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XFINITY

XFINITY Drivers Comment on Hectic Daytona Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A lap before Stage 1 of the PowerShares QQQ 300 ended, the second “big one” of the day occurred in Turn 4 of Daytona International Speedway.

The accident collected a dozen cars and ended any opportunity of a win for many of the race’s favorites.

Pole winner Brandon Jones was on the outside of Richard Childress Racing teammate Daniel Hemric in Turn 4 and made just enough contact to get loose and shoot up the track into the wall.

He collected a few XFINITY Series stars including Justin Allgaier, Darrell Wallace Jr., and all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers — Daniel Suarez, Matt Tifft, and Erik Jones.

“Unfortunately, we were a victim of circumstances — we were all just racing really hard there,” Allgaier said of the wreck. “I got clipped and got into the side the 33 [Brandon Jones], and that got us back into the outside wall.

“That was one of the hardest hits I’ve ever taken in my NASCAR career. It was a pretty head-on crash.”

Three laps before the melee, Speedy Dry was applied to the track during a red flag because of the first “big one” on the backstretch, which involved 20 cars — literally half the field.

Hemric’s No. 21 wiggled when he ran over it and cited that as part of the reason for the crash.

“It just felt like I was on ice and I slid up into the 7,” Hemric said.

Suarez, last year’s XFINITY champion, wasn’t pleased about the incident. He said, “I just feel like we have to be a little more smart — it’s a long race. I don’t know why we were racing like that really early.”

Some rumblings from the fans about yesterday’s event were that NASCAR’s new three-stage format played a significant role in the race’s narrative. Drivers want to be in the top 10 at the conclusion of a stage to earn extra points.

“I think the stages create a lot of urgency,” Brennan Poole, who was involved in a later accident on Lap 59, told POPULAR SPEED. “At a track like Daytona, it puts us in a position to try to get those extra points. I think yes, everyone is trying to get those extra points, but that’s just racing too, and that’s how it goes.”

Another reason could be the new aero package for XFINITY cars, which feature smaller rear spoilers and less downforce than in previous seasons.

“[The cars] are way different — entirely different than the way it’s been the last couple of years,” Poole said. “To me, it reminds me of the Cup cars. You saw guys moving around … I think it’s good, but you have to be patient, or there’s going to be a lot of accidents.”

Erik Jones, who makes his Daytona 500 debut on Sunday, said he was trying gain knowledge from the 300-mile race to help him on the Cup side.

He said, “It’s unfortunate because I was learning quite a bit for [Sunday]. Unfortunately, we just got caught up in a wreck. I don’t know if [the car] was good enough to win — we would have had to wait and see. It definitely was driving well in the hot conditions. I felt like we were aggressive and we put ourselves in as good a position as we could to try to avoid a wreck, it just didn’t work out.”

Perhaps it was a combination of a new rules package and the new race format that caused Saturday’s race to be such a crash fest. The cars become harder to handle with less downforce, and it puts more emphasis on the driver to control his car. But being in the top 10 at the end of a stage is crucial to the points standings too.

Your thoughts?

Did less downforce in the cars or the new stages cause a wild race on Saturday?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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XFINITY

XFINITY Rookies Have Rough Debuts as Full-Timers at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It was a tough day to be a rookie in the NASCAR XFINITY Series on Saturday.

Cole Custer, Spencer Gallagher, William Byron, Matt Tifft, and Daniel Hemric all made a name for themselves in the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series campaign, but all five had a dismal debut as full-time XFINITY drivers.

Custer and Gallagher’s days ended early in the first big wreck on Lap 23. Six laps later, another “big one” occurred and among the drivers swallowed in the melee was Hemric and Tifft.

Byron had the best finish of all the Rookie-of-the-Year contenders by salvaging a ninth-place result, but his race was far from clean as well.

In the final stage of the event, his JR Motorsports No. 9 experienced a battery issue, forcing him to pit, putting him a lap down. He got back on the lead lap after a debris caution late in the race but was then involved in another accident with Ray Black Jr.

Aside from the aggressive racing, the ROTY racers commented on the difference of XFINITY cars from the trucks.

“They’re better-handling than the trucks because they don’t move around as much in the air,” Custer told POPULAR SPEED. “It was fun to drive, but we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Gallagher said he understood “where Cole is coming from” about the car’s driveability, but he had a different opinion after the race.

“I actually found these cars to be more wobbly,” the GMS Racing driver said. “The trucks punch such a big hole in the air that I think they move more. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of control, although it does feel pretty unnerving as a driver.

“With trucks, you can get a lot more adventurous about pushing because you can push harder.”

Byron, although involved in multiple accidents throughout the day, said post race:

“We just got into so many things tonight. [The cars] are pretty stable, they just go faster overall. I went through a lot of grass, but it handles a little better, so it was just more aggressiveness.”

The competition for ROTY honors will be tense this year. Having five talented rookies in competitive racecars will be an intriguing storyline throughout the season.

“It’s kind of like when you go from third grade to fourth grade, and everything is new, but you still have your buddies to come up with you,” Gallagher said. “It’s going to be stiff competition all throughout the year.”

The XFINITY rookies finished as follows:

P9: Byron

P11: Tifft

P31: Hemric

P36: Gallagher

P37: Custer

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

Tifft Hopes for Success, While Raising Awareness for Brain Tumors

Entering the XFINITY Series season as a full-time driver, it’s no secret that Matt Tifft hopes to be successful all year long. Though while making trips to victory lane, he has another goal – to raise awareness about brain tumors.

Currently working with the American Brain Tumor Association and other organizations, Tifft wants to be able to raise awareness, and show people that discussions are being had.

“I’ve talked about this in the past, but we don’t know much about brain tumors as a society,” he said. “You hear other diseases and you know you can get cured from that, you know the resource to go to, this doctor, know what to do. Brain tumors are a little different. There’s a stigma that it’s a death sentence, that your life is over. I want to be an advocate for brain tumor awareness and help those others in need.”

Tifft has already been able to connect with the fans about it, speaking with a young fan at Kentucky Speedway last week about his experience.

“Being able to talk to those people and having an avenue to talk about it, I love it,” he continued. “I want to be able to help people more with that. The more I can raise awareness for it, the more we can find cures and doesn’t have such a bad stigma with it.”

Tifft knows the experience firsthand, having gone through brain surgery last year for a tumor.

While having a back injury checked on, doctors found a low-grade glioma in his brain. At the beginning of July, he had surgery to remove the benign tumor and began rehabilitation, returning behind the wheel of a truck in August.

Going through the recovery process, Tifft admits that he questioned whether things would get back to normal but always kept it in the back of his mind that he’d return behind the wheel eventually.

“I used that as my motivation to get back,” he said. “Now the timing of that, I didn’t have any idea. I didn’t know if it’d be a few weeks, few months, or next year – I had no idea. The only thing I knew was the best I could was use every resource that I had possible to re-strengthen my brain and try to get myself in a position to get back in a car.”

The want to get back in the car created anxiousness for Tifft, in wanting to get better as soon as he could so he could race once again.

“The first couple of weeks was watching races on TV because I wanted to stay active and know what was going on. But at the same time, you’re saying that you should be out there,” he said. “Internally, I don’t feel different, but I can’t do those things right now. Luckily, I’m at a point, where I’m 100% fine but during that time, I want to get out there, be involved. It was hard to take a back seat to that.”

The recovery process included doing a series of brain puzzles, which Tifft admits he called “stupid” at the beginning, but realized as time went on how much they helped.

“Doing those games over and over and I see the Lumosity commercials and ask if it really works,” he said. “Then months down the road, it’s like, ‘Wow, that helped clear my head.’ I did that, neo-cognitive exam and I’m interested in going back in July a year later and comparing the results. That’ll be interesting.”

Now having the opportunity to race again, Tifft isn’t about to take it for granted.

“Being able to look now ahead to 2017 and not having a worry about that, having it completely in the past and not paranoid about that, it makes everything that much more sweet to get to this point and look forward to a great year,” he said.

Tifft will have one of the best opportunities to do well, set to run the full XFINITY Series schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing. He made a total of 10 starts last year with JGR in XFINITY, including a top-five, five top-10s, and a pole award.

“JGR and Toyota both are giving me so many tools and resources to use as a driver to better myself,” he said. “I’ve never had a full-time season, so the ability to race every week, be consistent, and getting the seat time every week will be huge for me moving forward.”

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.

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News

Revamped Dash 4 Cash Program Returns to XFINITY Series in 2017

NASCAR XFINITY Series regulars will compete for an additional payout in four races again this season as the Dash 4 Cash program returns for its ninth season.

This year’s format has received a shakeup as heat races have been eliminated and the newly implemented race stages for NASCAR’s top three series will play a role in determining which drivers are eligible to battle for the $100,000 bonus.

Phoenix Raceway will host the first of four D4C races on March 18. Bristol Motor Speedway will then host the second event on April 22 followed by Richmond International Raceway on April 29 and the final race at Dover International Speedway on June 3.

With the elimination of heat races, regular Coors Light Pole Qualifying will set the starting lineup for D4C events.

During the event, the two highest finishers from Stage 1 and Stage 2 will determine the four NASCAR XFINITY Series regulars eligible to win the $100,000 bonus during the Final Stage.

The highest finishing D4C driver at the completion of the Final Stage that marks the end of the race will take home the incentive.

To signify D4C eligible drivers during the Final Stage, those drivers will carry a red windshield header.

Playoff eligibility will again be in play for any driver who captures two D4C bonuses during the season as it is looked at as the equivalent of a race win.

Last season’s D4C prize went to Erik Jones twice, and Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier each captured the incentive once. Jones scored a victory before his second D4C prize which had already qualified him for the playoffs.

With many new faces such as William Byron, Matt Tifft, and Cole Custer competing full-time in the XFINITY Series for 2017, the battle in D4C races will be intense. Pocketing the $100,000 twice to make the playoffs may prove valuable in what could be a very competitive regular season and tight race to the playoffs.

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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.

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News

Tifft Gets Nod for Full XFINITY Schedule with Gibbs

Matt Tifft‘s comeback following brain surgery is officially complete as he will drive a Toyota Camry full-time in the XFINITY Series next season for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It has been an incredible year, and I am honored to have the opportunity to continue working with Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2017 season,” Tifft said. “I’ve always wanted the chance to contend for a championship with the Chase for the Championship program, I am thrilled to be with JGR and know they will be instrumental in my career. Through my health challenges this year and while I have continued to learn and improve my driving skills, Coach Gibbs, the staff, and veteran drivers here have mentored me, and I look forward to the opportunity to be around them now for a full season.”

Tifft has made a total of eight starts this season, including a top-five, four top-10s, and a pole award; he is scheduled to run two more races this year, Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“We look forward to continued development with Matt (Tifft) over this next race season,” said Executive Vice President of XFINITY Series Operations and Development Steve DeSouza. “He’s shown strength through adversity and a strong willingness to advance his performance level for a long-term career in racing. JGR has enjoyed watching young drivers such as Erik (Jones) and Daniel (Suarez) move through our system and build experience that is yielding them positive results on the racetrack. With the championship caliber NASCAR Sprint Cup Series programs, drivers and personnel to draw from here, these young competitors continue to grow. I know Matt will take full advantage of this continued opportunity.”

He was scheduled to run approximately 12 races this season in the XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing; however, this year took a twist mid-summer.

While having a back injury checked on, doctors found a low-grade glioma in his brain. At the beginning of July, the 20-year-old had surgery to remove the benign tumor and began rehabilitation, returning behind the wheel of a truck in August. He then got back behind the wheel of a JGR car a week later in XFINITY, posting a fifth place finish for his first career top-five.

“It’s still a very real thing in my life,” Tifft said. “Last week, I went up for my eight-week checkup MRI, and it went well by the way, so I still have to do that kind of stuff, and it’s still a reminder of the things I have to go through. I’ve had to put a – we have a really cool sponsor in Surface Sunscreen, but surfers, they have this little rectangle zinc stick that they put on their nose, but I can put it right on my scar, so it’s pretty cool how that works, but you know it’s just – it’s amazing to look back and see every month how much it progresses and it will continue to do that, but you know in the beginning I had to do a lot of things and still do like brain games, just going online and playing on different websites and just trying to keep my brain active and they say that’s the best thing is just to keep doing that and keep it healthy that way. Just constantly thinking instead of just watching TV or something.”

Over the past three years, he has run limited schedules in the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series, with a combined 31 starts for two top-fives, 13 top-10s, and a pole. He also has spent time in NASCAR’s K&N Pro West, K&N Pro East and ARCA Series and the X-1R Pro Cup Series.

Joe Gibbs Racing also announced Matt Beckman would serve as the crew chief for Tifft after serving as the race engineer on the No. 11 Sprint Cup Series team with Denny Hamlin, under the direction of crew chief Mike Wheeler. Beckman has been with JGR since 2007, becoming an engineer on the No. 19 Sprint Cup Series Toyota team in 2015.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for me, and I’m excited to work with Matt (Tifft),” Beckman said. “Joe Gibbs Racing has had incredible success for many years now in the XFINITY Series, and I know the organization takes immense pride in those accomplishments. You don’t have to look any further than JGR’s Cup Series crew chief lineup to realize the tradition they established at JGR, and I’m honored to become a part of it starting next season.”

Primary sponsorship for Tifft and the assigned car number will be announced at a later date.

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.

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Trucks

Tifft Making Return at Chicagoland

After undergoing surgery for removal of a low-grade glioma in the brain in June, Matt Tifft will make his return behind the wheel this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. The 20-year-old will drive the No. 11 BrainGear / Surface Sunscreen Toyota Tundra for Red Horse Racing.

Tifft announced the news via twitter on Monday evening.

“I’m excited to get back behind the wheel,” Tifft said. “I’ve really missed being at the track, so I’m very happy to be back and able to race the No. 11 Tundra with BrainGear and Surface Sunscreen on board.”

Prior to his surgery, Tifft made three starts behind the wheel of the No. 11 with a best finish of fifth at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

RELATED: Read Kirsten Schneider’s recent interview with Tifft about the surgery and recovery

“We’re really glad to have Matt back in the No. 11, but more importantly we’re glad that he’s healthy,” said team owner Tom DeLoach. “We’re looking forward to finishing out the season strong with him back in action.”

Tifft’s sponsor, BrainGear Performance Formula, seems perfect considering what the rookie has gone through, as it’s a brain performance developed by neurologist and industry experts. The benefits from the formula include immediate focus, clarity and concentration while optimizing the health of the brain over time.

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

After Health Scare, Tifft Shifts Focus to Racing Return

On the cusp of his 20th birthday, Matt Tifft stared fear right in the face.

He entered 2016 by signing a development deal with Joe Gibbs Racing, locking him in for a 13-race opportunity. In three starts with the Toyota organization, Tifft brought home a pole and two eighth-place finishes in the XFINITY Series. Things were going great – aside from his back pain. The plan was simple enough; after back treatment, a full-body scan would give him the all-clear and let him loose.

The medical results threw him for a loop – there was a mass in his brain.

“They looked at it and brought it to a brain tumor board, and they voted on what they thought it was; 60-percent of them thought it was a tumor, and 40-percent thought it was something called cellular dysplasia, which is just deformation of brain cells,” Tifft told POPULAR SPEED, adding, “It’s definitely something you don’t take lightly, but I think there was a time I was like, ‘Ok, I know what this is and need a treatment plan and surgery’ and looked at where we could go from there.”

Tifft underwent surgery and had the tumor removed. Afterward, he participated in five days of testing; with 25 probes stuck to his head, doctors monitored the electrical activity in his brain and compared it to pre-surgery results. It confirmed the lack of seizure activity. Neurological exams followed, and everything came back negative. Doctors cleared him to race – despite the skepticism before his surgery.

He said, “I had people in the medical community saying that they thought I wouldn’t get back to racing. Once I heard that, it motivated me to get back to racing even more.”

With the medical part of the journey behind him, his focus shifted to testing and building up to a racing return. Time plays a vital role in his recovery; jumping in a racecar before he is ready – both mentally and physically – can lead to unnecessary damage. After testing in a Late Model multiple times, there is discussion Tifft will drive for Red Horse Racing at Chicagoland Speedway next week.

Tifft  is confident in his driving abilities post-surgery.

“I want to work on getting to a competitive place when I get back and just make sure I go back at the right time,” he said. “I definitely don’t want to rush and mess up my career because I went back too quickly.”

JGR didn’t want that, either; the organization has been overwhelmingly supportive through Tifft’s ordeal. Despite the success surrounding his first three races, health took precedence in this instance.

He said, “They said that, with how I performed at the beginning of the year, they couldn’t wait to get me back in a racecar. They’re great people over there; Chris Gayle, my crew chief, and all the guys on the 18 team – and Coach reached out a lot as well. The team is full of great people that care about employees and drivers.”

Throughout a terrifying situation, Tifft remained optimistic after surgery and treatment. He hopes his positive outlook on social media helps others in the same scenario. As he approaches his racing return, he keeps pushing toward the ultimate goal – slowly get his life back on track.

“Every week that goes by, I get a little bit better. I’m just about 100-percent now and trying to get back in the car really soon. It keeps on getting better.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@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.

Categories
XFINITY

Dakoda Armtrong Gets Opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing

As Matt Tifft continues to heal from brain surgery, Dakoda Armstrong will drive the No. 18 Winfield Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend.

“I am very excited for this opportunity to race with Joe Gibbs Racing,” Armstrong said. “I want to thank Matt Tifft and his family for all of their help. I hate that I am getting this opportunity at the expense of another driver being out of the car – but hopefully, Matt will continue with his speedy recovery and get back behind the wheel soon.”

At the end of June, Tifft underwent surgery to remove a low-grade glioma in the brain. He is currently going through rehabilitation, but once he is cleared by the doctors, he is expected to make his return to racing.

Armstrong has competed in the XFINITY Series over the past five years, scoring four top 10s, a pole and leading 12 laps in 91 races. Last year, he finished 16th at Iowa Speedway driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. This year with JGL Racing he has a best finish of 12th at Daytona in July.

“I am glad I get this opportunity at Iowa Speedway as it is one of my favorite tracks,” Armstrong said. “Also hopeful this opportunity helps my JGL Racing team and me as we continue to grow and make progress with our program. We have a great relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing, as we utilize their engines and pit crew for our No. 28 Winfield Toyota. I look forward to having a great race on Saturday night with the No. 18 Toyota and learning a lot with it. I want to thank all of my sponsors, my JGL Racing team and Joe Gibbs Racing for all working together and giving me this opportunity.”

The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team has had success so far this year, scoring a total of nine wins with Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish Jr., including the spring race at Iowa Speedway. Hornish qualified third, trading the lead back and forth with teammate Daniel Suarez throughout the day, before leading the last 50 laps en route to victory.

Despite a different driver behind the wheel, crew chief Chris Gayle is entering this weekend with the same approach on the pit box.

“We’ve had a little more notice with Dakoda, so we’ve been able to already discuss the weekend and talk about some of the common issues the Iowa race track creates and his past hurdles there,” he said. “Hopefully, that allows us to be a little more prepared for the weekend. I think it all really comes down to bringing good racecars. I felt like we had a really good car in the spring, with Hornish (Jr.), and this gives us a really good starting point for this weekend.”

JGL Racing confirmed Drew Herring would fill in for Armstrong at Iowa. It is Herring’s fourth start of the season after posting a 14th-place finish at Dover in May.

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.