By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
In recent weeks, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Tifft has been more consistent in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The Pocono Green 250 at Pocono Raceway marked Tifft’s first career NASCAR start at the ‘Tricky Triangle.’
In the first practice, Tifft placed his No. 19 Tunity Toyota Camry 17th. In the final practice, he was 18th on the speed charts.
In qualifying, Tifft had a decent run going until he had to slow for Casey Mears who had just completed his qualifying run. This proved costly for Tifft as he ended up 31st on the starting grid, his worst starting position since Homestead last year. NASCAR officials disallowed Mears’ lap because he inadvertently impeded Tifft’s attempt.
From the drop of the green flag, Tifft immediately began to move forward. Unhindered by the lack of cautions, he climbed to 15th by the time Stage 1 ended. Being outside the Top 10, Tifft did not gain any Championship Points.
Stage 2, like Stage 1, went caution free. This allowed Tifft to continue to push forward. By the time Stage 2 ended, he climbed to the ninth position. Tifft gained two additional Championship Points thanks to his stage finish.
The final stage saw teams opting to take different strategies. Tifft’s crew chief, Matt Beckman, called his driver down with about 35 laps to go, easily within range of making the remaining distance on fuel. With Pocono being a 2.5-mile triangle, Tifft easily pitted without losing a lap. Other teams elected to stay out and hope for enough cautions to make it to the end.
With 20 laps to go, the caution waved for Brandon Jones, who cut a tire and spun into the outside wall on the frontstretch. All of those who had been trying to wait for cautions relented and pitted, this moved Tifft up from 14th to third.
Tifft stayed in the third position for a handful of laps before finally slipping back as those with fresh tires stormed through the field. By the time the checkered flag waved, he had stabilized in the 10th position.
This is the 10th career Top 10 for Tifft in 23 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts. He remains in eighth in the Championship Points standings, 125 points behind leader Justin Allgaier. Tifft is also 58 points ahead of the cutoff for the Playoffs.
Tifft explained that fighting back as a team showed improvement,
“I think the biggest thing is when you start as far back as we did, you have to play some strategy calls there. We were able to come up from 31st to 15th at the end of the first stage. At the beginning of the second stage, people were playing a lot of different strategies there and we kind of made our decision to come and just do stage two pit deal there and came in and I thought we made the car better. I thought we were free earlier so we got it tightened up and everybody else was pitting and we pitted a little bit off sequence and it ended up working out.”
“The only thing is we had a great restart the last restart and were up to third and everybody else was on new tires and just kind of a sitting duck there and clinging on, just kind of got tighter as the tires wore on. Another good top-10, we just need to finish in the top-10 every week and build consistency. We had struggles today and we fought back as a team and we were able to get back in the top-10, so I think that shows signs of improvement from where we were at the first part of the year. We’ve done that two weeks in a row now, so hopefully we will keep that up at Michigan, too.”
Now Tifft, Beckman, and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing team will look to build on their momentum at Michigan International Speedway.