Matt Tifft 'Gateway' to a Full-Time Ride
The 18-year-old was impressive in his KBM debut last month at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, running inside the top five for most of the event before getting caught on the slow-moving inside lane on a pair of late-race restarts and ending the night with an eighth-place finish. The Charlotte result equaled a career-best finish for Tifft, which he recorded in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in October of 2014. The Ohio native has recorded three top-10 finishes across seven career Truck Series starts since making his debut last October, including two in four starts this season. Two of his three top-10 finishes came at Martinsville, a flat track that has similar characteristics to what he will experience this weekend at Gateway.
While Saturday's race will be Tifft's first career start at Gateway, the supporting cast assembled around him is very familiar with the mile-and-a-quarter oval. Calling the shots atop the pit box for the young driver will be last year's winning crew chief for the Truck Series race at Gateway, Jerry Baxter. Under Baxter's guidance, Darrell Wallace Jr., qualified second and led a race-high 85 laps en route to victory in last year's 160-lap event at the Illinois track. Wallace Jr., also scored a victory last October at Martinsville and overall in 2014 the duo combined to register an average starting position of 3.2 and average finish of 2.4 in four races on flat tracks of 1.25-miles in length or shorter on the Truck Series schedule.
Ted Musgrave, the 2005 Truck Series champion, will serve as Tifft's eyes in the sky this weekend. Musgrave, an Illinois native, is a two-time winner at his home-state track, leading 140 of 160 laps in his 2001 Gateway win and then topping that by leading 158 of 160 laps in his 2005 victory.
With a strong supporting cast around him, Tifft is primed to post another impressive run for KBM this weekend. The talented teenager is looking to follow the blueprint established by teammate Erik Jones and use the success from a part-time schedule as a 'Gateway' to a full-time ride next season.