Brain Bond: Matt Tifft and Dale Earnhardt Jr. connect during their recoveries

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Matt Tifft is getting antsy.

Tifft has been out of a race car since he was diagnosed with a low-grade tumor at the end of June. The tumor was removed on July 1. Though the 20-year-old has been cleared by doctors to race, Tifft won’t get back in a race car until a Late Model test next week.

“It’s been a little tough for sure,” Tifft told NBC Sports in a phone interview Monday. “You wait so long for it. It’s hard to sit out as long as I have, obviously. You tell yourself that’s the reason you do all this stuff, is to get back in the car. Just waiting for that day to come is definitely a long wait, that’s for sure.”

Tifft, a member of the NASCAR Next class, had competed in three Camping World Truck Series races and six Xfinity Series races before he was sidelined.

Over the last two months the native of Hinckley, Ohio, has been open about his recovery. He has posted videos updating his status and shared pictures of a five-day test regarding brain electricity.

It makes Tifft one of, if not the only current NASCAR driver, who knows what Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going through.

The Sprint Cup driver has been out six weeks because of a concussion from a June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway. Earnhardt, who has a history of concussions, regularly updates his recovery via his podcast, Twitter and Instagram.

Tifft said he has been in touch with Earnhardt to compare their experiences.

“That’s a strange thing to bond over, for sure,” Tifft said. “I don’t know if you want to call it irony or what that we have two brain things going on in NASCAR at the same time.”

Despite the difference of their illnesses, Earnhardt has advised Tifft on ways to make the recovery process easier to bear.

“There’s time to stay off of electronics and stuff and time to stay away from things that really strain your brain, even though it sucks, to relax,” Tifft says Earnhardt has told him. “Try to rest your head as much as possible. Some of the experiences he’s had to go through, so he passed it on to me.”

Two weeks ago, Earnhardt posted a series of Instagram videos sharing what his daily exercises are like, including playing basketball and walking through a dark room lit only by disco ball lights. He also posted a video of himself walking through a supermarket as part of a sensory exercise.

Earnhardt advised Tifft to get out of the house as often as possible.

“That helps a lot because staring at screens and stuff, sometimes when you have nothing to do when you’re sitting at home … you don’t know what to do with yourself,” Tifft says. “Sometimes, you have to force yourself to be in the moment … for me, it’s going on a walk outside, things like that. Things that are not just watching TV.”

Tifft suffered a concussion earlier in his career. Curiosity about any lingering effects from it, such as sensitivity to light, led Tifft to get an MRI of his brain that found his tumor during a trip to the hospital for a back problem.

Another thing the two drivers have in common is they don’t know for sure when they’ll be back racing. Earnhardt has missed six races and will sit out the Sept. 4 Southern 500 before he is evaluated again.

Tifft’s first time back in a race car was delayed two weeks due to “logistical reasons.”

A test at Hickory Motor Speedway in Newton, North Carolina, on Aug. 20 would have been Tifft’s first time in a race car after his surgery. But after considering the schedule of the team whose equipment he’ll be using, DLP Motorsports, the test was moved to after Labor Day.

“They had to go to a race the next weekend,” Tifft said. “It made sense for both of us. That gave me a little bit of extra physical prep time too, so it wasn’t a bad thing at all.”

Tifft says the test with DLP, a team based out of Mooresville, North Carolina, came about through a mutual friend from Tifft’s days of racing super late models in Florida.

After three months, Tifft’s career will soon be back on course.

“Things are getting back to normal life and everything,” said Tifft. “Just trying to get everything ready and all that stuff to go racing. Obviously the test coming up soon can be big for that as well.”

Tifft is unsure if the test will take place at Hickory or the Motor Mile Speedway in Fairlawn, Virginia. But he is “fully anticipating” to be racing again this season.

“I’m very confident that I’ll get back in sometime this season,” Tifft says. “When exactly, I don’t know. I think we’re doing the right steps to get back in the seat with that test and all that kind of stuff. It’s one, (a) matter of trying to get back in the seat for competition reasons, but then also making sure it’s the right time and you’re not pushing for no reason. That’s not something you want to play around with.”

He can take comfort in the fact that the most popular driver in NASCAR knows what he’s going through.

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups


LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying


LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.


LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024


LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.