Gifford scores top-10 finish in Nationwide debut
August 03, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
NEWTON, Iowa -- Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard ... Ryan Gifford?
The 24-year-old Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next driver added his name to a pretty exclusive list Saturday night, as he piloted the No. 33 Menards Chevrolet to a ninth-place finish in the U.S. Cellular 250 presented by Enlist Weed Control System at Iowa Speedway -- in his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut.
Gifford became the eighth driver of the season to drive the Richard Childress Racing No. 33, and his short stint behind the wheel may have been the most memorable -- and that includes Stewart’s season-opening victory at Daytona.
“I’m just super pumped,” said Gifford, whose confidence was on a clear and steady incline throughout the weekend. “I feel like I learned more in these past 250 laps in a race car than I have in a long time. These Nationwide cars are so much fun to drive and difficult too; I mean you really have to be on your toes. I can’t thank Drive for Diversity and Menards enough for putting me in this race.”
Midway through the race, it appeared Gifford may have been a little overwhelmed at first. He fell off the lead lap, but had the support of his crew and a certain driver he’s known for a long time.
“(My crew said) if you’re running 20th at the first caution, we’ll try and get you a few spots and so on,” he said. “But the key point of the race for me was when I got (the beneficiary). Fortunately, we got the caution right there. When Austin (Dillon) got behind me, right when he got by me he kind of stuck his hand out the window and said ‘Hey, this is where you need to be right here’, and it kind of all clicked and that helped me a bunch. Then we got four fresh tires and freed the car up a little bit and it took off, so I got lucky there.”
It was a weekend of learning for Gifford, who also improved upon his practice times Friday from 24.253 (22nd) to 23.567 (14th). It was just a quick sample of what this brand of racing is all about, but now that Gifford’s got the taste, it may not be too long before we see him again.
“Man, I wish I could go back out there and run some more, it’s so much fun,” Gifford said. “I’m looking forward to more. I feel like I’m in a good position, I’m with good people and I try to surround myself with good people. So who knows what the future holds? Right now I’m having fun, I’m running good and I’m enjoying life. We’ll just have to see (if I will get another chance in the No. 33), I hope so. It was awful fast. I just tried to drive the wheels off it and put it in position and we finished all the laps and we finished top-10.”
As for now, Gifford will continue his K&N Pro Series East season, where he currently stands fourth in points and has a win at Richmond in the books.
With the experience of running a bigger, faster Nationwide car, it’ll be tough for him to focus on the present without looking toward the future.
“These cars are way different than the K&N cars and you can’t compare them at all,” Gifford said. “I learned how to drive with the brake and gas and be patient with a lot bigger car. These are cars that I’m going to be racing, hopefully in the future, so that’s the main thing.”