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Tifft To Race Full ’17 Xfinity Slate For Gibbs

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 4 2016
Matt Tifft will spend all of next season behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series car. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

Matt Tifft will spend all of next season behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series car. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Ohio-native Matt Tifft will drive a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry for the full, 33-race NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule in 2017.

Tifft, who underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor in July, has run a limited schedule bugnotesin both the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series over the last three seasons, making a combined 31-career starts. Tifft, 20, has recorded one top-five and eight top-10 finishes in the Truck Series and one top-five, five top-10s, one pole and 23 laps-led in the Xfinity Series.

Tifft also has competed in NASCAR’s K&N Pro West, K&N Pro East and ARCA Series and the X-1R Pro Cup Series.

Tifft made his first career Xfinity Series start with JGR at Kentucky Speedway in 2015, earning an impressive 10th-place finish.

“It’s been an incredible year and I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue working with Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2017 season,” said Tifft, who is competing in both the NCWTS and Xfinity draces this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. “I’ve always wanted the chance to contend for a championship with the Chase for the Championship program. I’m thrilled to be with JGR and know they will be instrumental in my career.

“Through my health challenges this year and while I have continued to learn and improve my driving skills, Coach Gibbs, the staff, and veteran drivers here (at JGR) have mentored me. I look forward to the opportunity to be around them now for a full season.”

Tifft’s primary sponsorship and assigned car number will be announced at a later date.  

Tifft’s racing career took a serious detour in June when a low-grade glioma was discovered in his brain during routine evaluations for some back pain. Successful surgery in July was followed by rehabilitation. By August Tifft was working his way back to driving a street vehicle. He was cleared to return to NASCAR competition in September at the Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.  One week later he was back with JGR in the Xfinity Seriesat Kentucky Speedway, ironically the track where he logged his initial series start. The Kentucky race produced Tifft’s first top-five Xfinity finish.

In addition, Matt Beckman will serve as Tifft’s crew chief in 2017. Beckman currently is the race engineer under crew chief Mike Wheeler on Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Office Sprint Cup Series Toyota team. Beckman, who joined JGR in 2007, holds an undergraduate degree from Michigan Tech and earned his masters’ degree from the University of Minnesota.

Tifft is a second-year student at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, majoring in business management.

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Determined to erase the memories of his most recent start at Texas Motor Speedway, William Bell topped the speed chart during Friday morning’s hour-long practice for tonight’s 18th annual NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.

Bell, driver of the No. 4 Toyota fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports, toured TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile quadoval in 29.580-seconds/182.556 mph on the third of his 23 laps. Start of the session was delayed a half-hour as workers continued to dry the track after an early morning mist added to the rain that forced NASCAR to cancel two practices Thursday afternoon.

Bell, a 21-year-old native of Norman, Okla., saw his bid for a “home track” victory scuttled in the Rattlesnake 400 when a missed shift on the opening lap detonated the engine in his Tundra. The series rookie finished last in the 32-truck field.

Yeah, just a mistake,” Bell said during a media session Thursday afternoon. “Tony Stewart’s done it, I’m sure everybody’s done it in their day. Do I think about it? Yeah. Do I make that mistake again? I hope not. You know, I’ve mistaken the white flag for the checkered flag before and only did that once. So I don’t foresee myself doing that again.”

Tyler Reddick was second-fast at 181.855 mph in the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford F-150 with Matt Tifft third at 181.690 mph in the No. 11 Waste Connections Inc./BrainGear Toyota Tundra.

Bell is among five drivers vying for three spots in NSACAR’s first Truck Series Chase. Two-time series champion Matt Crafton was fourth at 181.629 mph in the No. 88 DampRid/Menards Toyota with William Byron fifth at 181.214 mph in the Liberty University Toyota. Bell won the June night race here and is looking for the season sweep.

Series veteran Johnny Sauter secured the first berth in the Championship 4 race slated for Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18 with his victory last Saturday in the Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway. Sauter, driver of the No. 21 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet Silverado, was 14th at 180.060 mph. Chaser Timothy Peters was 15th at 179.958 mph in the No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota.

Chaser Ben Kennedy was 19th after lapping at 178.678 mph in the No. 33 Jacob Chevrolet Silverado.

Sauter is trailed on the Chase Grid by Bell (13 points above Crafton on the cutoff line), Peters (+12), Byron (+9), Crafton (-9) and Kennedy (-10).

Truck teams are scheduled to qualify at 2:45 p.m. (CDT) today for an event set for 220.5-miles/147-laps. Fox Sports 1’s coverage will begin at 7 p.m. with the green flag at 7:30. The race also will be carried on radio by MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 4 2016
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