ESR Caps Off Season With Championship, Other Honors After Challenging Rockingham Outing Car owner Eddie Sharp knew that his team had quite a task in front of them on Sunday after his driver Justin Lofton, the points leader entering the ...
ESR Caps Off Season With Championship, Other Honors After Challenging Rockingham Outing
Car owner Eddie Sharp knew that his team had quite a task in front of them on Sunday after his driver Justin Lofton, the points leader entering the season-ending American 200, was forced to surrender a second place starting position for the start of the race after an engine change. Despite taking the green flag from the 41st spot, Lofton maneuvered his way through the field to finish third, locking up the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series championship by just five points over race winner Parker Kligerman.
"The best two guys, the best two teams were sitting at the front. It doesn't matter if it's five points or 500. We did it," Sharp said.
Lofton did what he needed to do on Sunday, keeping a cool head despite the disadvantage of starting at the rear of the field. 23-year-old Lofton initially qualified second for the race, but following qualifying, his Mark Rette led crew was forced to swap out engines.
"Right before qualifying, there was some stuff in the oil filter. We made a judgment call to go ahead and let him qualify to get points. We didn't tell Justin because we didn't want to worry him," Sharp explained.
"Mark's made awesome calls all year. He made the call to change the motor. It was the right thing to do. It definitely worked out," Lofton said.
With a new, strong power plant under the hood of his No. 6 Toyota, Lofton wheeled his way through the pack once the green flag waved and by lap 25, he had moved his way into the top 20 after passing rookie teammate Craig Goess for the 19th position.
The race ran uncharacteristically caution free through the first portion of the race, with the first yellow flag falling on lap 70. Under the yellow, Lofton dropped his machine onto pit road to the attention of his crew. Rette called for a slight adjustment in addition to four fresh Hoosier tires.
Lofton took the restart on lap 76 from the 12th position. Within 10 laps, Lofton's day improved yet again, as he cracked the top 10.
The race hit halfway as Lofton reported a minor tight condition on his machine. Fortunately, the caution flag waved on lap 116, allowing the Lofton Cattle crew to tweak on the machine once more. After bolting on their final set of tires and making another small adjustment, Lofton was back on track for the restart, primed in the seventh spot.
50 laps later, the field fell under a red flag period following a caution flag. At that time, Lofton was sitting in the fourth position. Parker Kligerman however, led the way, giving the Penske Racing-affiliated driver the advantage in the point standings.
Once the caution flag was lifted, Lofton dug in and maneuvered his way into the third position, locking him in as the 2009 champion. For the final 38 laps, Lofton maintained his position in order to take the top honors.
On the last lap however, he got racy and made contact with Casey Roderick, gunning for the second spot. After getting sideways, Lofton wheeled his machine straight and crossed the stripe in third, narrowly locking in the championship with a five-point advantage.
"I took it really, really cautious all day. I knew if it was going to come down to how I did, I was going to need everything. I was going to need all four fenders on the car. I was going to need all of the tires that I could possibly save," Lofton said.
Lofton locked up the honors in only his second season of ARCA competition. Through the season, he earned an impressive five pole awards, six race wins, and led the series with 15 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes spanning 21 events.
"Running against the Penske organization, it shows the quality of people that Eddie has working for him and the equipment that he has underneath the driver. I have to thank Eddie for that. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," a humble Lofton added.
Sharp, who used to race himself, added of his young champion, "I told Justin last year if he came back we could do this. He and his Dad entrusted me with his future. That is the ultimate compliment to a team owner, when a Dad trusts me with his son. He's become a son to me. I couldn't have written a script and wrote it any better, with a better person, not a driver, but a better person than Justin Lofton."
The Sharp organization ended the season with the owner's championship, driving championship, the Hoosier Tire Superspeedway Challenge, and crew chief Rette also locked up the Crew Chief of The Year honors.
Sharp's rookie drivers Craig Goess and Tim George Jr. ended their season fifth and 11th in series points. Goess captured a best finish of third at Pocono and ended the year with two top-five and 12 top-10 finishes while George Jr. collected one top-five and two top-10s.