Loose Wheel Derails Top-10 Run for Tifft

Matt Tifft started Saturday night's Rhino Linings 350 at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway from the 18th position, but had maneuvered his way into the top 10 at the halfway mark of the 146-lap event. On lap 91, Tifft hit pit road for four tires and fuel during a long green-flag run, but after returning to the track reported a bad vibration on his No. 51 NASCAR Slots Games Tundra.
 
Two laps later he returned to pit road where his over-the-wall crew tightened the lugs, but the problem persisted and six laps after returning to the track was forced to return to the pits for four fresh tires. Tifft was scored three laps down in the 21st position and with the race proceeding caution free to the finish ended the day with a disappointing 19th-place finish despite having one of the fastest truck on the track.
 
"The No. 51 NASCAR Slots Games Toyota was really good for most of the race -- we had a top-10 run going but after we came down for a green-flag pit stop had a loose wheel and were forced to pit again," Tifft said of his 13th career Truck Series start. "We lost a couple of laps and you can't pick up any spots when you are a few laps down. It's just disappointing because my Tundra was so fast at the end of the race. Gained a lot of experience in traffic and as a driver I learned a ton today -- probably more than I've learned all season."
 
After rolling off in the 18th position, the UNC Charlotte student quickly began moving forward. By the time the first caution of the race occurred on lap 14, Tifft had moved up to the 13th position. Crew chief Jerry Baxter summoned his young driver to pit road to top off the No. 51 NASCAR Slots Games Tundra with fuel. 
 
The 19-year-old took the ensuing report from the 11th position, but quickly reported that his Tundra was "free on entry." When the second caution of the race slowed the field on lap 38, Tifft visited pit road for four fresh tires with an air pressure adjustment and a full load of fuel. The talented teenager took the lap-41 restart scored in the 14th position.
 
A two-truck accident slowed the field for the third and final time on lap 49, but with only eight laps on their tires the No. 51 NASCAR Slots Games team elected to remain on the track. Tifft took the lap-52 restart from the eighth position, but lost one spot and settled into the ninth position, where he remained until coming down pit road for his green-flag stop on lap 91. The loose wheel ended the Ohio native's hopes for his first-career top-five finish, but he made the most of the circumstances and posted competitive lap times as he continued to gain experience with how aerodynamics affect the trucks on mile-and-half tracks.
 
John Wes Townley collected the first Truck Series win of his career. Timothy Peters finished 3.827 seconds behind Townley in the runner-up position. Ben Kennedy finished third, while John Hunter Nemechek and Brandon Jones rounded out the top-five finishers. Tifft's KBM teammates Erik Jones and Christopher Bell finished ninth and 14th, respectively.
 
The 18th race of the 2015 season featured three cautions for a total of 19 laps. There were 15 lead changes among nine drivers.
 
With five races remaining on the 2015 schedule, the No. 51 team ranks fifth in the Truck Series Owner's championship standings.
 
Tifft will be back behind the wheel of the No. 51 Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action Oct. 24 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Live coverage of the Fred's 250 begins with the NCWTS Setup Show at 12:30 p.m. ET.

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Steven B. Wilson

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