By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
As Christopher Bell cruised his way to a rookie-high sixth win of the season, all eyes were glued on the battle for the eighth and final transfer spot between Ross Chastain and Matt Tifft in Saturday’s Bar Harbor 200 at Dover International Speedway in Delaware.
Not even a late-race tangle between the two stopped Tifft’s march into the next round. While Chastain finished 13th, a 15th place result was good enough for the Hinckley, Ohio native to advance into the Round of 8, beating the JD Motorsports driver by three points.
Tifft described the closing laps battling Chastain as intense, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t his best performance after a stellar fifth-place result at Richmond and a vital sixth-place finish at the Charlotte Roval to Chastain’s 12th last Saturday.
“It was very intense, especially the last part of the race. We weren’t very good today,” said Tifft. “We’ve had a lot of really good strong runs, but unfortunately today wasn’t one of them. You know, just getting ourselves back into the hornet’s nest between fifth and 20th place back there is going to be a mess.”
For the first 179 laps, the race was clean as it only had one incident involving Josh Bilicki on Lap 163. That all changed with 21 laps to go when the aggressive and unapologetic Chastain used the right bumper and moved the Richard Childress Racing driver out of the way in Turn 3.
Once the bump was made, chaos ensued as the Roval winner and lapped car of Chase Briscoe was in the top lane and when Tifft got sideways, he clipped him, sending the No. 60 Ford into the wall to bring out the fourth and final caution of the afternoon.
Miraculously, the 22-year-old veteran didn’t sustain any damage, whereas Briscoe’s right rear took the most beating.
However, he was less than thrilled with Chastain’s move and hunted him down to show his frustration, along with Tifft calling Chastain an “idiot” over the radio for the move.
“I was trying to get a run going down under the No. 60 car. I don’t know, (Ross) ran into the back of us there,” Tifft on the incident. “Luckily I was a able to save it, but just held on to it the best I could and just try to make sure we got to the finish line because big picture we just needed to get to the next round.”
Cooler heads prevailed for a moment as Tifft restarted in 11th with 17 laps remaining, and as the race wound down, Tifft lost a few more spots, making his playoff hopes more difficult.
At one point, he was tied with Chastain for the final transfer spot, which would’ve locked Chastain because of his runner-up effort at Richmond. Then Tifft decided to take a page from Chastain and used his bumper on his fellow playoff competitor Ryan Reed for 15th, where he stayed for good.
Despite being the second worst finisher out of the 12 playoff drivers, it was still good enough for the pilot of the No. 2 Fanatics/Surface Sunscreen Chevrolet Camaro to advance into the Round of 8 for the second straight season.
During the cool down lap, Tifft ran into the back of Chastain entering pit road, which he said it wasn’t that big of a deal than people made it out to be.
“Foot slipped off the clutch and tapped him out. It didn’t mean anything honestly,” said Tifft. “We got bigger things to worry about. If we didn’t make it, I’d might be more upset, but we made it through.”
Tifft added that he has work to do heading into the next round and already willing to move on from the “Monster Mile.”
“Glad we made it, but we struggled quite a bit, especially on restarts on the outside groove,” said Tifft. “We didn’t have the car to run up there, but thankfully made it in. I had a bit of a scare there towards the end, but hopefully we can take this as a mulligan and move on and get them in the next round.
“We’ve had some great top-five runs in this first round, so we got a lot of speed and we’ll find it back. We’re focused on the championship, we don’t need to worry about that.”
He’ll start the next round as the seventh seed with 3003 points to his name heading into Kansas Speedway for the Kansas Lottery 300 in Kansas City Oct. 20. In his only trip at the 1.5-mile circuit, he started and finished eighth when he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing last season.