Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Tifft was made available to the media at Texas Motor Speedway:
MATT TIFFT, No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What does it mean to you to race full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017?
“Yeah, it’s an incredible opportunity. The crazy thing is I remember a couple months ago just coming to Bristol to do the press conference about trying to get back in a car, so it’s so cool to be sitting here today announcing our plans for next year and being full-time and you know the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) organization was so great through everything I went through and we’ve had some good runs together and it’s just – it’s going to be an awesome opportunity to be able to race with them week in and week out and it’ll be my first full season in NASCAR competition, so it’ll definitely be a rewarding thing for me, because I feel like I can grow a lot as a driver with all the information JGR gives me and relying on our teammates and just that ability to race in and out every week and go contend for the Rookie of the Year and hopefully end up at Homestead too.”
Will you race in the Truck Series as well in 2017?
“We’re – we still haven’t figured that one out yet, so we’ve just been – we’ve been working on this, but obviously we’ve had a great partnership with Red Horse Racing and racing with them tonight and that’s – we’ll continue to work that one out.”
What kind of rehab did your brain surgery require and are you still rehabbing?
“Yeah, it’s still a very real thing in my life. Last week, I went up for my eight-week checkup MRI and it went well by the way, so I still have to do that kind of stuff and it’s still a reminder of the things I have to go through. I’ve had to put a – we have a really cool sponsor in Surface Sunscreen, but surfers, they have this little rectangle zinc stick that they put on their nose, but I can put it right on my scar, so it’s pretty cool how that works, but you know it’s just – it’s amazing to look back and see every month how much it progresses and it will continue to do that, but you know in the beginning I had to do a lot of things and still do like brain games, just going online and playing on different websites and just trying to keep my brain active and they say that’s the best thing is just to keep doing that and keep it healthy that way. Just constantly thinking instead of just watching TV or something.”
What number Camry will you drive in 2017 and how will you prepare for full XFINITY schedule?
“Yeah, well first of all, we’re still working on the number and we’ll probably have an announcement with that in time to come. Just no timeline on that yet. Yeah, that’s something I’ve thought about as a driver because I haven’t done that. The good thing is you know the last couple of years, I’ve done about 26 to 30 races a year. They just haven’t all been grouped together like the XFINTIY schedule has it, so, you know, it will just be making sure the off-season I get prepared with training and everything and then just you know the cool thing about working with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and the great thing about them is they really give me the resources for every week to prepare with more than enough information for myself and just relying on the relationships I’ll have with my crew chief as well, being able to actually race week in, week out and work with my guys every week, that’ll be huge. So I know it’s going to be a lot more maybe taxing on me, but, you know, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m not going to complain about it.”
Were you seeking a full-time ride before your surgery or did this come about during your recovery?
“It’s hard to say exactly when it started, you know? When we started this year with the 13-race schedule, in my mind my job was to go out and perform and show that I could race with my teammates and learn as much as I could, but with the ultimate goal of hopefully being able to move in a full-time role and, you know, probably towards the time that it started happening – where that the health issues started to come up – was probably when it first started talking about it and then obviously this stuff kind of got put on the back burner, so, you know, now that we’ve been able to get back in the car and get some good runs again, that’s when we started really seriously talking about it.”
Can we assume some of this year’s partners will join you for 2017?
“We’re still working with all our partners on finalizing things for next year and, you know, obviously with the biggest thing being with this announcement coming out it’s a lot better sales pitch to those partners that we’ve been working with and moving forward, so we’ll continue those and we’ll continue this sponsorship talks in new ones as well. Just this is – our sport now is an ever-evolving sponsorship cycle, so we’re always trying to find new ways how to bring in new partners and keep the old ones that we have, so we’ll keep on working on it through the off-season. That will be our biggest next task after Homestead.”
What have you learned about racing since your return?
“How much I love it. You know, I think I remember in July probably two or three weeks after surgery and it was incredible to me how much it had – my perspective on life – had changed because, you know, I remember watching races on TV and when I first started going through these things and I had to miss a race for the back issue at Iowa it was like, ‘Man, I really want to be out there,’ and then I remember sitting at home in July thinking, ‘I have no idea, you know, what my future entails for me.’ I didn’t know – I didn’t know if I could drive a street car. I didn’t know when that timeline was going to be. I didn’t know if I was going to drive a race car this year, next year, whenever, but, you know, I just definitely kept the faith in myself that I could get back to that point. That’s what kept me motivated the whole time, but, you know, without the support of family and friends and that motivation to get back to racing, I don’t know how quick my recovery time would have been and obviously it’s different for every person, but I think that, you know, when I had to step out of that car and almost had what I love so much and wanted to do since I was five years old taken away from me, it made me appreciate it so much more that I’m stepping back to that role as a race car driver.”
Did you ever think what you would do if you couldn’t race again?
“You know, it’s a good question, but I’ll say that when I got done with my surgery, it was – I think I went in about three o’clock and I remember about 8 o’clock getting done with it or the clock said 7:51 and they told me I would be there for three or four days just admitted in the hospital and I got through a lot of things and got eating by midnight that night and I remember asking the next morning – I asked the nurse for a checklist of what do you need to get out of this hospital and just wanted to get done with everything, get back to home and instead of waiting three days, I got out less than 24 hours later from brain surgery and that motivation I had ever since then I never thought in my mind that I wasn’t going to do this. It wasn’t a – you know, I thought maybe it’s going to take a long time or I didn’t know when the timing would be, but the whole time I was planning on getting back in the car and that’s, you know, it’s definitely a very tough thing to go through and I’m not sure how I would have reacted without having the racing piece of it and being able to help others who are going through that as well, so, you know, it was a very strange and tough process for me to go to, but, you know, I never started looking for different routes to go. I just always wanted to be back in the car.”
Can you still tell your brain is ‘rewiring’ and how hard was it to watch Game 7 of the World Series as an Indians fan?
“I knew somebody would bring that up. It was – you know, it’s definitely interesting how the brain heals and fixes itself. The question earlier about the physical therapy with a normal broken bone compared to your brain, I just had to keep forcing myself to get out and be active and just – even though that doesn’t seem to do anything physically, mentally those new experiences kept on helping my brain heal and ultimately support itself before I could do something with the adrenaline rush of stepping in a race car, so today, no, not so much. There might be a couple times where it just does it a little bit, but it’s – I mean, maybe five percent at most and that’s if it ever does it, so it’s pretty much set now. And to your other question, I – you know, I’m a huge Cleveland sports fan. If anybody knows me, they know that about me, so I went to the ALCS game a week before that and you know what? They had I think three or four of their best players and pitchers and Michael Brantley, their outfielder who is one of strongest hitters, that was out for the whole season, so they got a bunch of guys coming back for the next few years, so I think the Indians are going to get a World Series here pretty soon, so not too worried about it.”