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Ohio native Matt Tifft enjoying Cleveland’s best sports year in decades

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Matt Tifft‘s first sports love is auto racing. But the Ohio native is a loyal fan of Cleveland’s sports teams.

Tifft, 20, was raised in Hinckley, a suburb of the city that is home to the NFL’s Browns, the NBA’s Cavaliers and MLB’s Indians.

“Our weekends growing up, for me, you watch the race and you watch the Browns,” Tifft told NBC Sports back in September. “That’s just what you did.”

But born in 1996, Tifft had never experienced a title by any of those teams before this year.

The city itself hadn’t won one in 52 years.

“The sports teams there mean a ton more than they would anywhere else,” Tifft said. “Just cause it’s a very sports depressed town. The things that have happened there over time, everybody there bonds over sports. It’s a bigger deal than a lot of other places because there’s not a lot else to do.”

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22: Cleveland fans celebrate during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors to bring the first professional sports championship to the city of Cleveland since 1964. (Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)
Cleveland fans celebrate during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)

The five decades of misery ended in June when the Lebron James-led Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors in seven games.

The feat took place on June 19, the same day Tifft was originally scheduled to compete in a Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway. But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver sat out the race for a disk problem in his back, a condition that resulted in the discovery that Tifft had low-grade brain tumor. The tumor was surgically removed on July 1 and Tifft is already back racing.

The Cavaliers’ victory and the resulting parade turned the streets of Cleveland into a sea of humanity the city had never seen before.

“That was awesome,” Tifft said. “That was cool. I was down here (in North Carolina). I wish I could have been up in Cleveland to see that and see the parade when they had 1.3 million people out in the city, that was just insane.”

But the sports highs aren’t over yet for Tifft and the other Cleveland faithful.

On Wednesday, the Indians completed a 4-1 series win over the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series, advancing to their first World Series since 1997.

Tifft was just a year old then. But the Indians would provide him with his most emotional non-racing sport experience a few years later.

“I remember going to a Cleveland Indians game when I was probably 8 or 10 years old or something like that,” Tifft said. “We go to a lot of the Indians games. It was a game that my dad and I were at. They were playing the Detroit Tigers and it was the bottom of the ninth inning and I think they were losing six runs or something impossible to get. I think they hit a couple of home runs in a row and ended up winning. I remember it was really cool.”

That moment might have been topped for Tifft when the Indians clinched their World Series spot. But unlike the Cavaliers’ championship run, Tifft has gotten to experience a piece of the Indians’ title bid.

Now the Indians and their faithful wait to find out who they’ll face in the World Series. The Indians, who haven’t won a title since 1948, will play either the Chicago Cubs, who are without a title since 1908 and haven’t been to a World Series since 1945 or the Los Angeles Dodgers, who haven’t been to a World Series or won one since 1988.

The only thing missing from Tifft’s Cleveland sports bliss is his Browns. The AFC North team has never been to a Super Bowl and is 0-6 so far this season.

“When you’re a Browns fan, you don’t remember anything good because nothing good ever happens,” Tifft said.

But the Ohio native is ready for when that day comes.

“Whenever the Browns make it to the playoffs or the Super Bowl … I may be dead by the time that happens,” Tifft said. “But if that happens, I will be there.”

NASCAR America: Chase Elliott ‘biggest surprise’ of Cup playoffs

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Only two drivers are safely in the third round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski secured spots through their wins at Charlotte and Talladega.

That leaves six spots to be decided Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

NASCAR America analysts Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty broke down the drivers competing for spots. Both of them agreed that Chase Elliott, who has finished in second in three of the five playoff races, has a great chance to make it all the way to the championship race in Miami.

“If Talladega had played out, he was either going to be in victory lane or in the top two or three,” Petty said. “When you look at that, he has had the most solid playoffs of any driver out there. We keep talking about the big three: Larson, Busch and Truex. This guy is a sleeper. But he’s my No. 4.”

Said Kligerman: “He’s been the biggest surprise. That 24 team has been incredible through the playoffs. One thing I’ve noticed about that team, just speaking to (crew chief) Alan Gustafson, speaking to Chase, it’s almost as if they want that first win more than they care about the playoffs.”

Watch the above video for more on the playoff drivers.

Friday’s NASCAR Cup, Xfinity schedule at Kansas Speedway

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Things get started today for the pivotal weekend at Kansas Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have its elimination race in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, where four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will not advance to the Round of 8.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series begins its Round of 8 with Saturday’s Kansas 300.

But it all begins today, as Cup has its first practice (the other two are Saturday) and qualifying, while the Xfinity Series will have its two practice sessions.

Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up:

(All times are Eastern)

10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

12 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity garage open

1 – 2:25 p.m. — First Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

2:30 – 3:25 p.m. First Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)

5 – 5:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, 3 rounds) (NBCSN, MRN)

NASCAR: Will Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch advance in playoffs?

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The last two drivers to win NASCAR Cup titles are in precarious positions ahead of the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, is outside the top eight in ninth. He sits seven points behind defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman debated who they think had the best chance to advance to the Third round after Sunday.

Petty put his money behind Busch, who has finished in the top five in each of his last five starts at the 1.5-mile track.

“He’s one of the big three: Truex, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson,” Petty said. “I don’t see where these (last) two races (Charlotte, Talladega) have changed anything. The one thing Kyle Busch brings into Kansas City … he brings speed. These guys have had speed all year-long.”

Johnson on the other hand has produced only four top fives all season and just one since he won at Dover in June.

But Kligerman explained why he thinks the seven-time champion will prevail on Sunday.

“Jimmie Johnson knows how to pass and that is what has become evident throughout this season,” Kligerman said. “No, they have not had the fastest cars at Hendrick Motorsports. No, they have not qualified well. They’ve actually been sort of abysmal at qualifying of late.

“… He has three wins this year. Two of those he started at the back.”

Watch the video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez’ racing roots

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.

On the show:

  • We’ll debate which past Cup Series champion will advance to the Round of 8. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson currently leads 2015 champ Kyle Busch by only seven points for the final transfer spot. Who has the edge going into Kansas this Sunday? This elimination race will be a heated competition just to finish above the cut line. Log on to NBCSports.com/NASCARVote and weigh in!
  • Xfinity Series playoff driver Daniel Hemric calls into the show to talk about his chances of advancing to the championship four in Miami. He’ll also describe his experience being one of the four drivers to participate in the recent tire test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval.”
  • We take a look at the Daniel Suarez’s Racing Roots and discuss his transition from Xfinity Series champion to Monster Energy Cup Series rookie.
  • Parker Kligerman hops into the iRacing simulator to preview Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas, as well as the Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.