Competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series full-time for the first time in his career, Matt Tifft put together a solid season at Joe Gibbs Racing, placing seventh in the year-end standings with 13 top-10 finishes.
Now at Richard Childress Racing for 2018, the 21-year-old spoke about his thoughts entering the year and more.
POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts entering the year?
MATT TIFFT: I’m excited. It’s been probably the most fun off-season that I’ve had, and not even just away from the shop stuff, but just the feeling in the shop and working with this group so far. It’s been refreshing, and I’m just going into the new year with a completely new attitude about it. A completely new opportunity and situation, so I’m really excited. So everything feels really good, and really bright about it. It’s cool to have that side going into the season to start it off.
PS: How is the experience been for you in getting to know your new teammates?
MATT: Well, you know, the biggest thing for me is that when you go to a new organization, you’re learning so many people. I’m learning new faces, new names as I go in our meetings and everything. But Daniel Hemric is going to be really good to work with as a teammate. As a driver, he’s just so knowledgeable about the cars and very talented, so I think I’ll be able to lean on him a lot and learn from him in our competition meetings and in between practices.
But just as a whole, with my teammates on the (No. 2) team, they’ve been together for awhile. So it’s cool to see how jelled together they are, and how much they collaborate and work together and enjoy going into battle together. I think that’s rubbing off on me and as we get the season going, I have a really good feeling about us coming together and working together very well.
PS: What are your goals and expectations?
MATT: You know, last year, as the year went, things kind of changed as I went. I struggled out of the gate more than I would’ve liked to, and I feel like the last part of the year, I really learned a lot and improved a lot. At Phoenix (now ISM Raceway), we were six or seven points from making the final four; we just didn’t have a great race there. But, we were really one race away from making the final four at Homestead(-Miami Speedway). So definitely taking a place in the Championship 4 is the ultimate goal, but the steps before that I think would be finishing inside the top-10 every weekend.
Like I said, at the end of last year, I feel like I did that a lot better, and I feel like the big thing is to be consistent week-in-and-week-out. I think going back to a lot of these places for the second or third time, and just running the series full-time for a second year in a row, I have a much better understanding of the flow and what I need to do week-in-and-week-out. I think from what I learned last year, I will be able to apply that a lot better to start off this year and be able to go in with a mindset of attacking and doing really well each week.
For the first part of the season, being consistent and getting top-10’s. But once we get kind of working together more and get past the first couple of weeks, it’ll be starting to compete in the top-five, starting to compete for wins, and at least be in the conversation is really big. Ultimately, I want to get my first win this year.
PS: What track are you most looking forward to?
MATT: I love Dover (International Speedway). It’s always been my favorite just because of the roller coaster that place is with the G-forces. I don’t know what it is about it with the concrete, but I’ve always liked it, which is weird because I’ve never got along with Bristol (Motor Speedway). But that place has just always been special to me and a place that I really enjoy going to. I feel like I have a good feel for the car there, so it’s always circled on my list.
But I’m excited to go back to some of these west coast places again to see how I do the second time around, and see how much I improve. California (Auto Club Speedway) was a really fun track, but also a really challenging track for me last year, so I’m excited about going back there, too, just to see how much I can improve from last year.
PS: Looking back on 2017, what are your thoughts on how the stage racing played out?
MATT: In the beginning, it was hard to understand how it would play out. But what I thought was the biggest key for me to learn this year was – really I didn’t do well the last few races of the year – just being able to capitalize on stage points. What ended up happening is for us, when we got to the playoffs, we had dug such a big hole because we hadn’t capitalized on stage position and points, and that put us in a hole going through the playoffs. So that’s a big thing this year is having an understanding of how the stages play out.
I think I got a lot better at it last year, and the encouraging thing is that RCR has always been really good with strategy and how to put yourself in good position for championship scenarios. So I think that is a really great thing about this team in how they utilize strategy to be able to further themselves in the season and their rank. But, it’s going to be cool for me to try that again with a new group, and really try to tackle that.
PS: So far, how have you been spending your off-season?
MATT: Well, I went to Ohio for a little bit. I went up there for Christmas, and after that, I went to West Palm Beach for a week. Then after that, I’ve been back here, getting back into training and getting back into the swing of things. Today, I’m doing my final seat fitting; we did a bunch of stuff at the beginning of the off-season as we get everything transitioned over to RCR. So, just been trying to get that rolling and working on sponsorship stuff, race packages for the season, and hopefully a lot of those pan out here soon.
But it’s been busy. There hasn’t been too much down timing. I think I had just the first week to slow down a little bit, so it’s been kind of hectic actually. I think almost starting the season will be a little bit of a relaxed period – what doesn’t make much sense, but it probably will still be in getting back into the routine of things.
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