By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
SPARTA, Ky. – Matt Tifft was originally scheduled to compete in over thirty races this season between the NASCAR Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series and the ARCA Racing Series. That planned changed in June when the 20-year-old driver went in for an MRI as a result of a back condition. Doctors discovered a low-grade glioma in his brain that would require surgery and keep Tifft out of competition as he recovered.
After almost three months of rehabilitation, Tifft returned to competition last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, piloting the No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota to a 12th-place finish.
Tifft’s road back continued on Friday night at Kentucky Speedway, where he finished third in the ARCA Racing Series event behind the wheel of the No. 28 for Ranier Racing with MDM.
Tifft took four tires under the caution at Lap 70 and restarted sixth behind eventual race-winner Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Bret Holmes, John Wes Tonwley and Dalton Sargeant. Despite being the first car with four fresh General Tires, Tifft wasn’t able to catch the leaders and take advantage of the clean air.
“We came in and got tires and were hoping we could get a little bit of a jump on grip with these guys,” Tifft said. “The problem is that this track is so gripped up that tires just didn’t matter as much as we hoped it would. We had little bit better grip but it took about 10 laps to come in and by that time we were too far back.
“It was really cool to join Ranier Racing for this race,” said Tifft, who will compete for Venturini Motorsports in the season-finale at Kansas in October. “They’ve got really good stuff. I hate that we couldn’t close out the deal but definitely a lot to learn from tonight for tomorrow night with dealing with traffic and everything.”
Tifft is pulling double duty at Kentucky, also making his return to XFINITY Series competition in Saturday night’s 200-lap event.
“It’s been really good doing double duty, especially this weekend. It helps a lot with new tracks and trying to learn off of them. The cars are a little bit different but you can still learn off some of the same trends.”
Tifft is driving the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing at the 1.5-mile track and was second fastest in final practice on Friday evening.
“It’s kind of baby steps back to it a little bit. I feel 100 percent. I think the hard part is I’m rejoining the season in all these series during the Chase and during the last couple of races here in the ARCA Series. Obviously we want to come in and be competitive but it’s tough to come back in playoff form, really.
“These guys are in playoff form and I’m trying to get to that point. After taking the longest time I’ve ever been out of a race car off, its building back a little bit. I’m now at the point where I feel like the weeks ahead will be tons easier.”