Rookie Tifft transitioning to racing in NASCAR's premier series

Sean Montgomery

Professional stock car racing wasn‘t in the blood for Matt Tifft, a 22-year-old from Medina County, Ohio — he turns 23 on June 26th. However, strong support from family and friends led Tifft to becoming one of NASCAR‘s youngest drivers in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Growing up in the small town of Hinckley, Tifft traveled across state lines to Michigan almost every weekend to experience dirt track races with his dad and a family friend. From there, he genuinely knew he wanted to be behind the wheel.

“We would spend time with family and go watch the races and those were always some of my favorite memories as a kid,” Tifft said. “So, from a young age, I began asking myself the question of how to get started in racing.”

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Tifft started out at 11 years old, racing go-karts at the local, state and national levels. By the time he was 15, the Ohio native was racing full-sized stock cars on the ARCA Midwest Tour. At age 18, he made his debut in NASCAR‘s Gander Outdoors Truck Series, and during the 2015 campaign, he raced his way to five top-10 finishes in just 12 races.

He quickly moved up to the Xfinity Series, racing full-time with the Joe Gibbs Racing team — and later with Richard Childress Racing — amassing 32 top-10 finishes and eight top-five finishes in full-time duty from 2017 to 2018. A solid year in 2018 opened the doors for Tifft to move up to the Cup Series, as he began conversations with Front Row Motorsports to join their stable of experienced drivers.

RELATED: Tifft joins Front Row Motorsports in third car

In spite of having established success at many lower levels, Tifft knew the transition to a new team in the Cup Series would be one of the biggest challenges of his career. He made his Monster Energy Series debut in February at the 2019 Daytona 500 but got caught up in the “Big One” late in the race — a 21-car accident. Here, he learned that the level of competition is much higher and the margin for error each week is very slim.

“The first couple of weeks were definitely a big adjustment and I had to lean on my teammates a lot,” he said. “Being with Front Row, a smaller team, you have to race the race differently than if you were racing for a top-tier team.”

Working alongside veteran drivers and teammates Michael McDowell and David Ragan has been vital for Tifft, allowing him to grow on and off the track.

“Learning what they (my teammates) do and how they approach races to have a successful day has been important,” he said. “My original goal was to just be able to finish and learn the races, but now I can shoot for top 25s and top 20s. Three out of the last five races we‘ve finished in the top 25, which met our goal.”

For the entire Front Row Motorsports team, Tifft said a main focus for 2019 has been getting better each race and becoming more consistent.

“We‘ve got to get better at capitalizing on opportunities,” Tifft said. “We‘ve been there, and the next goal is figuring out how we solidify ourselves in the top 20 and start getting some top 15s and maybe sneak out a top 10 somewhere.”

RELATED: Tifft’s season results so far

In 15 starts this season, Tifft has a pair of top-20 finishes. The Front Row rookie and crew chief Mike Kelley have finished all but two, an important goal for the pairing. Tifft will head to the first road course race of his Cup career as the series goes to Sonoma on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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