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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.”

Martin Truex Jr.: VHT ‘a huge factor’ in Coca-Cola 600 — but wouldn’t work as well elsewhere

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CONCORD, N.C. — Though the rain paid a visit to the Coca-Cola 600, the traction agent applied high in the corners of Charlotte Motor Speedway was a “huge factor” in NASCAR’s longest race, according to Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, who led a race high 233 laps, lauded the VHT chemical used to improve racing at the 1.5-mile track after a dud of an All-Star Race.

“I think last weekend the middle groove, middle to high middle, was nonexistent,” Truex said after finishing third early Monday morning. “It was the slickest part of the racetrack.”

But that changed Sunday. Following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, NASCAR and the track reapplied refresh coats of VHT to the upper grooves in the turns after consulting drivers and crew chiefs. Even after a downpour swept over the track on Lap 143, Truex said the traction compound was a factor for 375 of the race’s 400 laps.

“It was the main groove,” Truex said of the higher grooves. “Where typically there is the least grip (there) on this racetrack, it was the most tonight. It definitely played a factor. It changed the race quite a bit. I think the downforce rules this year changed it quite a bit as well. The bottom of the racetrack is so bumpy and so slick, I’m telling you after 10 laps it’s all you can do to make laps without crashing down there.

“It definitely changed the race tonight. It made it a lot of fun. I thought it was a good addition.”

Winner Austin Dillon thought the VHT – also known as PJ1 TrackBite – benefited the race. But the Richard Childress Racing drive would like to see a change in where the agent is applied to the track surface.

“The middle groove had a lot of speed, took away from the bottom,” Dillon said. That’s usually dominant here. The bottom got good again. After the rain, the bottom was pretty dominant. As the race went on, I could actually see the VHT leaving the track. It was getting clean higher and higher.

“We’ve got something there as far as trying it. It’s not a bad thing. I really think we should try it more often. I think the next thing you look into is the placement of it. I feel like we needed more on the very top because the middle was really dominant, but you couldn’t really get into the top of it like you needed to. That would be my next shot at it. It’s not a bad thing at all. I like it.”

What’s next?

The chemical has been used on the concrete high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway and the asphalt of Charlotte and been mostly praised.

Should it be tried at any other tracks on the NASCAR circuit?

“I don’t think so,” Truex said. “I think this track is so unique, the pavement here, the geometry of the racetrack, the bumps that are in it. It’s almost got a concrete feel the way the bumps are. They’re really, really small, high‑frequency bumps, almost like a washboard, kind of the feeling you get at Dover (International Speedway). Most asphalt tracks are not bumpy that way. They’re more of a swell. The car kind of goes through swells, a place like (Chicagoland Speedway) or Atlanta (Motor Speedway).

“It’s very, very different here. The pavement is different than anywhere we go. The bumps in the racetrack are way different than anywhere we go. I think both of those things kind of contribute to us needing to do some different things here to change-up the racing.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions. (The video is available above).

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Others took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

But some agreed with Earnhardt’s stance.

After defending Busch, Earnhardt also poked some fun at him later Monday, too.

 

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.

Results, stats for the 58th annual Coca-Cola 600

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With a fuel gamble, Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 for his first NASCAR Cup win.

It comes in his 133rd start and is the second win for Richard Childress Racing this year.

Following him was Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Click here for the full results.