By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The beginning of the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series season has not brought the results that Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Tifft had been expecting. After opening the season with an 11th at Daytona, Tifft has been hovering just outside of the top 10.
In comparison, Tifft’s various Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have recorded one win, five top fives and six Top 10s between themselves. The newly repaved and reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway presented a new opportunity for Tifft and his No. 19 SiriusXM Toyota Camry team.
In the first practice session for the My Bariatric Solutions 300, Tifft was ninth fastest. In the final practice, he improved to fifth on the speed charts. Qualifying was a disappointment as Tifft ended up 19th on the starting grid.
The track proved to be treacherous from the start. Tifft held station as the field quickly moved towards a single-file attitude. 12 laps into the first stage however, fellow Rookie of the Year contender Daniel Hemric spun, bringing out the first caution.
The rest of the Stage 1 was quiet for Tifft. He quietly moved forward, but was unable to break into the Top 10 and as a result did not gain any extra championship points.
Shortly after the race restarted, Tifft’s teammate, Daniel Suarez bounced off the wall. Two laps later, Suarez finally broke loose, bringing out the third caution of the race.
The philosophy of cautions breeding cautions proved true as the race went green for another two corners before a multi-car wreck broke out. As turns three and four were cluttered with spinning and sliding cars, Tifft navigated his way around the chaos. He avoided being collected and gained numerous positions.
On the restart on lap 72, Tifft found himself inside the Top 10 for the first time all day. He quietly tried to move forward as the laps wound down in the second stage. Another caution with seven laps left in the stage presented the field with an opportunity. Half the field, all NASCAR Xfinity Series regulars stayed on track while Tifft and the rest of the field elected pit.
Tifft dropped back outside the Top 10 as a result. With three laps left in the stage, he had little chance of earning points in the stage.
After the end of Stage 2, Tifft found himself back inside the Top 10 when those ahead pitted. The race returned to the single-file mentality as many settled in for the next 100 laps. The field also spread out as the green flag run continued.
An uneventful round of green flag pit stops kept Tifft in the Top 10 for the remainder of the race. When his teammate, Erik Jones took the checkered flag, Tifft crossed the line in ninth, the last car on the lead lap.
This was Tifft’s first Top 10 finish of 2017 and the seventh of his career. Tifft climbed from ninth in the Championship points standings to sixth, 86 points behind points leader Elliott Sadler.
Tifft took to Twitter after the race, happy with his Top 10 run:
Great solid day that we needed for our @SIRIUSXM Camry, p9! Great momentum to lead off into the Easter off week pic.twitter.com/sdG61ILkYs
— Matt Tifft (@matt_tifft) April 8, 2017
Tifft and his team will now look to carry their momentum through the Easter break and into the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 22. Bristol is also the second Xfinity Dash 4 Cash race of the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series season where Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans with five or more years of experience are barred from competing and $100,000 is up for grabs for Xfinity Series regulars like Tifft.
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