Justin Lofton Soars to First ARCA RE/MAX Series Win Brooklyn, Mich. (June 14, 2008) -- Under bright blue skies, Eddie Sharp Racing's Justin Lofton drove to his first career ARCA RE/MAX Series win in the Race for Wildlife 200 at Michigan ...
Justin Lofton Soars to First ARCA RE/MAX Series Win
Brooklyn, Mich. (June 14, 2008) -- Under bright blue skies, Eddie Sharp Racing's Justin Lofton drove to his first career ARCA RE/MAX Series win in the Race for Wildlife 200 at Michigan International Speedway. Qualifying on the outside pole and starting beside teammate Scott Speed, the Westmorland-native ran up front all day, calmly, and patiently taking the lead in the final laps for the win.
[IMAGE] "This is definitely an emotional win for me," said Lofton. "I spun my tires on the start of the race and we lost several positions with our first pit stop. The guys did a great job on the next stop and we came out third, putting us in the position for the win. A big part of our success has been that my team owner Eddie Sharp came out of retirement to act as my Crew Chief and Lorin Ranier has spotted for me the last two races. As Lorin said recently, we have the A team going now!"
Despite being a "tick on the tight side," Lofton qualified the No. 20 Lofton Cattle Dodge on the outside pole with a 39.133 second lap on Thursday afternoon.
ARCA RE/MAX Series teams waited patiently on Friday afternoon, with all eyes on the Michigan sky. The raindrops began to pelt the pavement, first interrupting NASCAR Sprint Cup Qualifying, resulting in its cancellation. Next ARCA RE/MAX Series officials announced the postponement of the Racing for Wildlife 200 until Saturday morning. Teams scrambled to update travel plans and extend hotel rooms for the evening.
Teams returned to the track Saturday, with the garage opening at 7:00 a.m. Drivers climbed into their cars and the green flag dropped to start the 100-lap event at 8:30 a.m.
Lofton spun his tires on the start of the race, slipping to the fifth position. The Lofton Cattle Dodge remained there until the first caution on lap 21. Lofton reported to his team that the Charger was loose in Turns 1 and 2 and tight in Turns 3 and 4. The Lofton Cattle team jumped off pit wall and put four fresh tires on the car, added fuel and made an air pressure adjustment on the Dodge. An unfortunately long pit stop put Lofton back on track out of the top 10.
Lofton, poised and patient, climbed to the sixth position by lap 40. The SunTrust Rookie of the Year candidate continued to pick his way to the front, passing one car after another. By lap 55, Lofton was running in the third position.
The caution flag flew for only the second time on lap 59. Lofton, nearly out of fuel, made it to pit road for a full set of tires and fuel. Packed full, the team could now finish the race without another stop if necessary. The pit crew performed perfectly, getting Lofton back out on the track in the third position, where he restarted the race on lap 66.
Shortly following the restart, teammate Speed moved past Lofton. Speed did not maintain the position for long, with Lofton making his final pass on Speed on lap 79.
Holding strong to second place, team owner and acting Crew Chief Eddie Sharp coached his young driver, "just hit your marks. He'll come to you, trust me."
And that is precisely what happed. By lap 84, Lofton was at the rear bumper of the leader [the No. 01 of Sean Caisse]. Only five laps later, Caisse wiggled in the turn and Lofton capitalized on the moment, moving into the lead on lap 90. Lofton maintained the lead for the final 11 laps, holding off a charging Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. for his first career ARCA RE/MAX Series victory.
"It is such a relief to get this win behind me," said Lofton with a big grin. "It's a huge weight off the shoulders. I came here an unknown kid from California, and deep down I knew I had the talent but I tried too hard to show it. I've spent the last couple of weeks with myself. I knew I needed to let the race come to me instead of attacking it. That's what we did and when the 01 had a problem in [Turn] 2, we moved past him. I want to thank everyone, my parents, my team, Eddie [Sharp], Lorin [Ranier], and Brad [Parrot] for all their hard work, support and advice."
Lofton added that "my dad has helped me a lot with my career. He has been a big supporter and given me the most advice about racing than anyone. Stock car, off-road racing, it's all the same. You have to save your equipment and be there at the end."
In addition to the win, Lofton earned the SunTrust Highest Finishing Rookie of the Race award and established a new race record with an average speed of 150.596 mph, shattering the previous record of 145.956 set by David Stremme in 2006. Crew Chief Eddie Sharp earned Cometic Gaskets Crew Chief of the Race honors.
Next Stop: Lofton and the No. 20 team will enjoy an off-weekend before traveling across the border to Nelles Corners, Ontario (Canada) for the Cayuga ARCA RE/MAX 250 at Cayuga Motor Speedway on Sunday, June 29th.