After attending several races at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio as a fan, Wednesday night Matt Tifft finally got the chance to take to the half-mile clay oval as a driver at his home-state track. Tifft was on the verge of making 1-800-CAR-CASH Mud Summer Classic a memorable experience as he battled his way from his 22nd starting position into the top 10 just past the halfway mark of the event, but was relegated to a 21st-place finish after getting spun by Brad Keselowski while running 12th with just under 30 laps remaining.
"We didn't get the starting spot we wanted, but in the middle stages of the race we had a fast ToyotaCare Tundra and put ourselves in a position to battle for a top-10 finish before Brad (Keselowski) turned us around in that last segment," Tifft said. "I had just passed him off of Turn 4 and then when we got to the start-finish line he got his bumper up under the back of me and picked my rear wheels of the ground. He stayed up under me until we got off of Turn 2 and then I spun. We didn't get a caution and lost a lap, but we were able to get the Lucky Dog late in the race and at least get back on the lead lap. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to make up all the ground we had lost. After watching race at Eldora as a kid, it was really cool to get a chance to race there, but I'm looking forward to getting back on pavement for my next race and ready to get back to running up front."
With limited dirt-track experience, Tifft used two practice sessions on Wednesday morning to get a feel for how his Toyota handled on dirt versus Late Models and Modified vehicles he had previously raced. In the opening practice, he made a total of 35 laps and ended the session 10th quick with a lap of 20.623 seconds at 87.281 mph. The Ohio native made 50 more circuits in the final practice, ranking 14th with a lap of 21.430 seoncds.
In qualifying, the 19-year-old posted a lap of 22.257 seconds at 80.895 mph on his first lap and then got loose on his second lap and didn't complete it. The time was 27th quick, leaving him with the sixth starting position for the second of five qualifying races. Tifft was able to gain one position and finish fifth in his qualifying race, but communicated to crew chief Jerry Baxter that his ToyotaCare Tundra lacked forward drive.
The home-state driver rolled off 22nd for the 150-lap main event. Once the green flag waved, Tifft used the tacky low groove to make his way up to 15th by lap 10. He was able to pick up another two spots before the race reached the first competition caution on lap 40. During the break, he got four fresh Goodyear tires, a full load of fuel and multiple adjustments to try and improve the forward drive of the No. 51 Tundra.
Shortly after the green flag dropped on the second segment, he was able to gain two more positions and was running 11th when the seventh caution of the race slowed the field on lap 72. Under caution, Tifft reported that the chassis adjustments had improved his forward drive. Crew chief Jerry Baxter informed his young driver that lap times showed that he was faster running the bottom groove.
He made his way into the top 10 on lap 80, but as the lower groove lost its tackiness was forced to run the high line and lost two positions. The eight caution of the race flew on lap 95, bringing out the second-scheduled break. The majority of the lead-lap trucks elected not to pit before the final segment, ad did Tifft, who took the lap-120 restart from the 15th position.
Tifft quickly advanced up to the 12th position on the restart, but was spun by Keselowski two laps later. He avoided making contact with anything and was able to drive away, but the caution never flew and the leader was approaching quickly. He found himself the second truck one lap down in the 26th position when the 12th caution flew on lap 140.
A one-truck spin with two laps remaining slowed the field again and the No. 51 Tundra was in the Lucky Dog position. During the green-white-checkered finish Tifft was able to advance a couple of positions and ended the night with a disappointing 21st-place finish.
Tifft's Kyle Busch Motorsports' (KBM) teammate Christopher Bell picked up his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in just his third series start. Dirt Late Model standout Bobby Pierce crossed the stripe 0.761 seconds behind Bell in the runner-up position. Tyler Reddick finished third, Erik Jones fourth and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top-five finishers
The 11th race of the 2015 season featured 13 cautions for a total of 61 laps. There were nine lead changes among four drivers.
With 11 of 23 races completed, the No. 51 team sits fourth in the Truck Series Owner's point standings, 55 points behind the series leading No. 88 team.