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
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