The opening round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs came to an end Saturday at Dover International Speedway, and after 200 intense laps around the one-mile track, both Daniel Hemric and Matt Tifft advanced to the Round of 8.
While Hemric was able to clinch his spot in the next round just after the completion of Stage 2 of Saturday’s race, Tifft’s journey to the Round of 8 required a bit more work.
Tifft’s Playoffs Drama
Entering the day 13 points ahead of the final cut-off position with finishes of fifth and sixth to start the playoffs, Tifft qualified 10th and remained in the top 10 for the opening stage of Saturday’s event. However, as the race went on, those behind him in the standings put the pressure on the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet.
“We got ourselves back in the hornet’s nest some starting those restarts on the outside. We just could not go and that put us back in a bad spot,” Tifft explained after the race. “We’ve had a really good first round with a lot of good speed, but today was hopefully our mulligan day of the playoffs. Man, I was glad we were able to push a get in there because it was more stressful than we wanted it to be at the end.”
Perhaps the worst spot Tifft found himself in was when he was running ahead of Ross Chastain with 20 laps to go. As they closed on the No. 60 of Chase Briscoe, Chastain put the bumper to Tifft’s car and sent it up the track and into Briscoe. Tifft was able to hang on and avoid further issues, but Briscoe hit the outside wall and brought out the caution.
“Thank goodness we were able to save it there. I thought for sure we had lost it at that point. You’re doing everything you can to gather it back up and get going again,” said Tifft.
Clearly upset with Chastain, Tifft showed his displeasure under caution, but kept his wits about him and focused on the task at hand of advancing to the next round. With the point cushion narrowing and the number of laps winding down, Tifft’s level of aggression and intensity picked up.
Fighting hard he was able to finish the day 15th and advanced to the Round of 8 by just three points.
“I had to force my way through a couple of guys at the end just to make sure we got back into the next round,” he said. “(Chastain) was trying to do what he needed to do, and of course I’m upset because I’m on the receiving side, but I think this is why we have the playoffs and the elimination races, because we know it’s going to create this excitement and the intensity.”
As the playoffs continue and four other drivers face elimination after the Nov. 10 race at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, that excitement and intensity is going to continue to ramp up.
“It’s going to happen to one of us, it just happened to me today,” Tifft said of the hard racing. “When we get to Phoenix, it will happen to some other people. Everybody is fighting for those spots and you’re just trying to get everything you can.”
Playoff Points Make Difference for Hemric in Round 1
While Tifft fought and clawed for his spot in the Round of 8, Hemric advanced during Saturday’s race at Dover thanks to strong performances and stage wins during the opening two events at Richmond Raceway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, plus another in Stage 2 on Saturday.
Looking ahead to this round, Hemric understands the level of competition will continue to increase and the drivers that have battled for wins all season will continue to be the ones to beat moving forward.
“It’s kind of been the same group in contention all year,” he told reporters after Saturday’s race. “I feel like there were probably about eight or 10 cars before the end of the regular season, now it’s down to about five or six cars that if they legitimately hit on the right adjustment on the first stop they can gain control of a race and contend for the win. It’s going to be the same group that we’ll have to battle each week to get through this round.”
With two mistakes taking away the opportunity to compete for wins, Hemric is looking forward to this off-weekend to refocus his attention and show up ready to go for the Round of 8 starting at Kansas Speedway.
“I’m proud of the speed we’ve had during this round and our results should be substantially better,” he said. “Due to things out of my team’s control and things within my control I hurt our finishes in this round. Luckily, we had enough of a cushion to get us by.
“Sometimes you just need a week to step back. I’m looking forward to having the off-week to get myself where I need to be before we go to Kansas, because this race team deserves that, and they deserve to win races,” said Hemric.
The first race of the Round of 8 for the Xfinity Series Playoffs begins on Oct. 20 at Kansas Speedway, then heads to Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 3, with the final elimination race taking place at ISM Raceway on Nov. 10. After the Phoenix race, four drivers will advance to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to fight for the 2018 Xfinity Series title.