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Friday 5: The plan that helped Matt Tifft convince his parents to let him race

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Think back to when you really wanted something but had to convince a parent, sibling or someone else, to help you get what you prized.

Maybe you cajoled. Or begged. Or if that didn’t work, maybe you pleaded.

Matt Tifft wrote a business proposal.

That’s how he convinced his parents to give him a cell phone. And how he persuaded them at age 11 to go racing, leading him on a path to Cup and his rookie campaign this season for Front Row Motorsports.

Tifft’s passion in cars was always there, his mom, Vicki Tifft said. But she wanted him to understand more. As an entrepreneur, she wanted him to look at the business side of his decisions.

Tifft’s desire to race increased after he drove a go-kart at a local track on his 11th birthday and was told he had the best time of a newcomer there.

“So, I went to my mom and said, ‘Hey did you hear that? We need to go get a go-kart and go racing here,’ ” Tifft told NBC Sports.

Not so fast, she said. He needed a plan.

“With anything that you want to pursue, there has to be an end goal in mind, so we talked about that even at a young age,” Vicki Tifft told NBC Sports. “What’s the difference between doing this as a hobby vs. doing this as a living? Can you make a career out of this? If the goal is to be racing with the intent of having a career, then there had to be certain goals and strategies in mind.

“So we talked with him about what was his ultimate goal and how do you achieve that goal? Where are you today and where do you need to be? What kind of activities or milestones do you need to make it through? What’s the timeframe? What’s the cost of it?”

Just as important at that time, was how would Tifft manage being a student. That included his music. Each of Vicki and Quinten Tifft’s three children have been required to study music until they were 18. Tifft studied piano, taking part in competitions — “he’s an amazing pianist,” said Vicki Tifft, who studied piano for about 20 years— and played saxophone.

“There’s just so much research that goes into the connection of studying music and brain development,” Vicki Tifft said of the reason for the family’s music requirement. “We felt that was very important. It helps with mathematics and processing speed. It’s a good discipline. It’s good to be able to understand how to tackle something that you think is daunting, that you don’t think you can accomplish and take it into small bits and break it down and practice individual parts and put everything together, which is very similar to racing.”

Tifft sold his parents on the idea of racing and soon was competing in go karts. When it came time to look beyond go-karts, Tifft again put together a plan to move to Late Model racing and set a career timeline to NASCAR’s premier series.

He ran a partial Gander Outdoors Truck schedule in 2015 and saw his 2016 season in that series interrupted when he was found to have a brain tumor. He moved to the Xfinity Series in 2017, running the full season for Joe Gibbs Racing and went to Richard Childress Racing to run the full Xfinity schedule in 2018. Tifft then moved to Cup with Front Row Motorsports this year. He finished a season-best ninth at Daytona earlier this month.

“We looked at that (career outline) a couple months ago and it’s kind of scary, almost to the ‘T’ of how to get into the Cup series, how well we followed it,” Tifft said.

2. No funny business

NASCAR reminded teams this week that series officials want clean restarts with no cars laying back or playing games. Series officials are likely to remind competitors of this in drivers meetings this weekend at Pocono Raceway (Cup and Truck) and Iowa Speedway (Xfinity Series).

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials planned to further examine the issue this week after questions about Aric Almirola’s restart — he received a warning — last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“I think you’ll see us address kind of restarts heading into Pocono and reminding the drivers what we expect as well,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week.

There will be no rule changes to restarts.

3. Strategy play

With teams able to pit under green at Pocono Raceway — site of Sunday’s Cup race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) — and not lose a lap, strategy will play a key role.

The stage breaks are at Laps 50 and 100 in the 160-lap race. In four of the five Pocono races with stage breaks, the winner stopped before the stage break at Lap 100. Teams still had one more pit stop. Three of those four winners pitted between Laps 122-124. The other winner stopped at Lap 135.

They were able to move back up after the break because those needing to score points stayed out and then pitted when the stage ended. With several drivers battling for the final playoff spots, there’s a good chance many of those drivers will stay out to score stage points

In June, Kyle Busch stopped on Lap 94 and then made his last pit stop at Lap 124 with his four-stop strategy.

4. Another top five

Matt DiBenedetto‘s fifth-place finish last weekend at New Hampshire marked his second top-five finish of the season.

DiBenedetto continues to search for his first career Cup victory but his two top fives give him one more top five this year than five former Cup winners. Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Paul Menard each have won in Cup and have only one top-five finish this season.

5. Nearly unstoppable

The Xfinity Series returns to Iowa Speedway for Saturday’s race (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Christopher Bell, who won there in June, looks to continue his domination on the shorter tracks.

In the last 12 Xfinity races on tracks 1 mile in length or less — Iowa, New Hampshire, Dover, Richmond, Bristol and ISM Raceway — Bell has won nine times. He’s led 37.2% of all the laps in those 12 races, dating back to last season.

At Iowa, Bell seeks his third consecutive victory. He has led 55.2% of the laps run there the past two races.

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Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, lineup and more

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The playoff field will be whittled to eight drivers today at Kansas Speedway, where the second-round cutoff race of the 2019 Cup playoffs will occur over 400 miles.

Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney are locked into the third round, and Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick seem strong bets to advance. Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano (plus 18 points in the final transfer spot) also have a cushion on the cutoff.

That puts Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer and William Byron in virtual must-win situations to advance to the third round.

Here is the information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Actor Jensen Ackles will give the command to start engines at 2:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:48 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage will open at 10:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting will be at 12:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 1:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:30 p.m. by Lt. Col Randy Croft, Whiteman Air Force Base. The National Anthem will be performed at 2:31 p.m. by Eric Roosevelt.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race. Coverage will begin with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC. Countdown to Green follows at 1:30 p.m. on NBC, leading into race coverage. The postrace show will be on NBCSN at 6 p.m., followed by Victory Lap at 6:30 p.m.

Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast will begin at 1 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts partly cloudy conditions with a temperature of 63 degrees and a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: A year ago, Chase Elliott led the final 44 laps for his third and final victory of the season. Brad Keselowski won the May 11 race here, outdueling Alex Bowman in the closing laps. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here

Garrett Smithley calls wreck with leaders a career low point

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Garrett Smithley said he felt “probably the lowest of my career” Saturday after causing the leaders to wreck late in the Xfinity Series playoff race at Kansas Speedway while he was five laps down.

Smithley said he wasn’t aware the leaders were behind him when he exited Turn 4 and moved up toward the wall. Chase Briscoe, who was leading, and Christopher Bell, who was second, made contact as Briscoe tried to avoid Smithley.

Briscoe finished third. Bell 12th.

“I just didn’t get the memo that he was coming,” Smithley said of the leaders. “(Spotter) Freddie (Kraft) usually does a good job, he always does a good job. I’m sure it wasn’t his fault. Something didn’t get transmitted or what. I glanced up. David Starr was back there. I was just riding. We were on like 70-lap tires just riding not even pushing hard. I hated it.”

Asked about the line he ran, going from the bottom in the corners to high on exit, Smithley said:

“I was running my line. If I had known he was back there, I wouldn’t have even done that. I was just riding. I was on 70-lap tires, not even pushing it. Just stupid mistake. I hate that it happened. I hate it for everybody that got involved. I do not want to be that guy by any means. I’ve never been that guy. I hate that that happened.”

It’s the second time in about a month that Smithley has been hit by a faster car while running laps down in a race.

In the Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch ran into the back of Smithley’s car and criticized Smithley’s credentials.

Asked if he feared people would start associating him with those incidents, Smithley said:

“No. What happened at Vegas happened. People spoke and most people were on my side. It was a mistake. People forget how hard this stuff is. Things happen in a split-second decision. Like I said, I didn’t know he was up there. I glanced up and didn’t see him and ran my line and that was it.”

Briscoe demurred on being overly critical of Smithley, saying “I still haven’t seen a replay” when he talked to reporters.

“It is frustrating even without that lap car, just in general,” Briscoe said. “I totally understand lap cars are obviously off the pace and that makes it tough for them. At this place, the fast guys are running the top and there were a lot of guys that would run the top in front of you.

“We are literally racing for our lives trying to lock into a championship. I haven’t seen the replay so it is hard to say. I know I got tagged in the left rear by Bell but at the same time it felt like (Smithley) was going to put me in the fence regardless.”

Told that Smithley said he wasn’t aware Briscoe was behind, Briscoe said: “I feel like he should have general awareness of what is going on. I totally get where he is coming from. It is tough in those situations. I don’t know. I don’t want to comment on it because I have not been in his position, so I am sure it is tough but it is frustrating to say the least on my end. We go from 15 to go thinking we are going to win the race and lock into Homestead and then you are two points back. It is frustrating. I am sure he will reach out and I appreciate that, but it doesn’t much help the fact.”

Said Bell: “I haven’t seen (a replay) so it’s hard for me to say. Obviously I didn’t mean to wreck the 98. It sucks that we tore up two race cars.”

While Bell and Briscoe were judicious in their words, some Cup drivers expressed their feelings on Twitter:

Smithley took responsibility on Twitter:

 

 

Xfinity results, points after Round of 8 begins at Kansas

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Brandon Jones may have been eliminated from advancement in the Xfinity Series playoffs after the cutoff race at Dover two weeks ago, but on Saturday he lived up to his promise that he’d still win a race in the remainder of the playoffs as the Round of 8 kicked off.

It was Jones’ first win in 134 career Xfinity Series starts. It also was his 14th top-10 finish of 2019.

MORE: Brandon Jones rallies late to earn first career Xfinity win at Kansas

Tyler Reddick finished second, followed by Chase Briscoe, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

POINTS:

Even though he finished 12th after being involved in a late race wreck with Briscoe and Garrett Smithley, Christopher Bell still maintains his lead at the top of the heap of the Xfinity Series point standings.

Bell holds an 11-point lead over Cole Custer and is 12 points ahead of Tyler Reddick and 47 points ahead of Justin Allgaier.

Fifth through eighth are Chase Briscoe (-49 points), Michael Annett (-59 points), Noah Gragson (-64 points) and Austin Cindric (-77 points).

Click here for the updated point standings.

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Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick have physical confrontation after Kansas race

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Xfinity Series championship contenders Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick got involved in a heated confrontation that quickly turned physical after Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Custer, who was angry about Reddick making contact with him, approached his rival after they parked in the pits. Custer put a hand on the shoulder of Reddick, who responded by grabbing Custer with both hands (watch the video above).

The drivers both fell to the ground as they were swarmed by members of both teams. Neither driver seemed to be hurt, though Reddick had a red mark above his right eye.

“I was just frustrated that he can’t keep his car on the bottom and then runs us up into the wall,” Custer told NBC Sports. “If he wants to wreck cars and put them in the wall, that’s fine, but when it affects me, I’m not going to be very happy with him.

“I don’t know. I just went over to talk to him and say that and put my hand on him, and he just went berserk. I thought we had a good car and a shot to win.”

As he approached Reddick, Custer addressed him with “You can be a dumb (expletive).”

“I understand Cole’s frustration 100 percent,” Reddick told NBC Sports. “We’re trying to lock ourselves into Homestead, and he came up to talk after the race. He put a hand on me, I put a hand on him back, and that’s just how it’s going to be if we’re going to have a conversation that way.

“I’m out of breath. Had a fight there with some people, and it was a little bit of fun. I think a lot of Cole and his driving ability.”

Reddick finished runner-up Saturday to Brandon Jones, who won but already had been eliminated from the playoffs and wasn’t eligible to advance to the championship round. Custer finished 10th.

With two races remaining in the Xfinity playoffs at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, Reddick and Custer both are comfortably in position to reach the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Custer is 38 points ahead of the cut line, and Reddick is plus-37. Christopher Bell, who crashed with leader Chase Briscoe when he ran into the rear of the lapped car of Garrett Smithley, remained the championship leader at 49 points ahead of Briscoe, who is two points behind fourth-ranked Justin Allgaier

“It was just heat of the moment,” Reddick said of the scuffle. “We’re pissed off. I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon, maybe today, tomorrow.

“I hate that it happened to him, but we’ll try and move forward. Both of us have a lot left to lose in this deal, and if we take each other out, neither one of us get to Homestead, and I feel we both deserve to be there.”

A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesman said Reddick and Custer talk led later in the garage as their cars went through postrace inspection.

There also were postrace tweets from Custer and from Reddick.

Custer also was involved in a notable altercation after a truck race three years ago at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where he tackled John Hunter Nemechek in anger after they collided on the last lap while racing for the lead.

Nemechek made light of that situation while Custer did postrace interviews Saturday (see the :50 mark of Dustin Long’s Twitter video below).