Current ARCA Point Leader Justin Lofton Eyes Another Michigan Victory BROOKLYN MI (6-8-09) - Current ARCA RE/MAX Series point leader Justin Lofton is off to a phenomenal start in 2009. The driver of the Eddie Sharp Racing (ESR) Lofton ...
Current ARCA Point Leader Justin Lofton Eyes Another Michigan Victory
BROOKLYN MI (6-8-09) - Current ARCA RE/MAX Series point leader Justin Lofton is off to a phenomenal start in 2009. The driver of the Eddie Sharp Racing (ESR) Lofton Cattle Toyota has one win (Talladega), four runner-up finishes and a third after the first seven races. The 23-year-old Westmorland, California racer is also pulling away from his closest championship rival Parker Kligerman with nine-time champ Frank Kimmel a distant third, and falling.
So you'd think he'd be happy, right? Wrong. "It's getting frustrating," said Lofton the day after his second place finish at Pocono Raceway, his third consecutive runner-up finish.
"Eddie Sharp gives me the very best equipment to work with, my guys on the crew are doing an awesome job, my crew chief (Mark Rette) is phenomenal, and I just don't feel like I'm doing my part.
"Eddie Sharp gives me a car that can win anywhere on the circuit, and I'm not getting it done. It's getting aggravating."
It may be aggravating, but it's, nonetheless, working quite well in the overall picture. And it's certainly not too soon to start thinking about points and championships with one-third of the season in the books.
"That's the good part in all this," added Lofton. "We're building up our points, looking at the bigger picture."
And that bigger picture is the ultimate goal for Lofton and his ESR team - that bigger picture being the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series driver and owner championship, something that has eluded the ESR equation for too long. Make no mistake about it - Lofton has every intention of moving on to the NASCAR ranks; but he certainly acknowledges that a championship would be a huge feather in his cap, much like it was for Justin Allgaier, who now finds himself a product of the powerful, prestigious Penske Racing club.
"The championship is a big deal to me - very big. This is not just about seat-time for me. In fact, that's why this whole deal came together this year (in the ARCA RE/MAX Series). When I sat down with Eddie Sharp, Mark Rette and my dad to talk about the direction we were going to go (in '09) we all had one common goal - the championship. It's huge for me. I want it bad. I want it for Eddie Sharp Racing, my dad, my crew chief - we all want the same thing."
The championship is the one piece of the puzzle that continues to elude the ESR organization, which finished second in points with Michael McDowell in 2007 before giving up the '08 title in the final moments of the Toledo finale after its driver Scott Speed did what he did.
"The championship is why I'm not exploring other opportunities right now. I don't want to dare take any focus away from this team, and our common goal.
"Felt like we could have won yesterday (at Pocono), but we also overcame a lot of adversity. We lost a motor in practice so we had to change motors for the race. It would have been nice to get some practice in. I mean, the changes we made on our pit stops, we went forward, but what we really needed was something we would have had to get under the car to do, and with more practice, I think we would have learned that.
"We needed longer runs too. Joey (Logano/Pocono winner) was a lot better on shorter runs. We needed a longer run to build up tire pressures. It'd been a different story if we would have had more practice."
With Pocono in the rear view mirror, it's now onto the next event on tour - to Michigan Int'l Speedway for this Friday's (June 12) Racing for Wildlife 200. It's also where Lofton notched his career-first series victory in 2008.
"Can't wait for Michigan. We're going to be a lot stronger this year. We had a really strong test. We're bringing the same car to MIS that we ran at Pocono. We know exactly what we have, what the car does and the adjustments the car needs.
"We're actually going with a completely different set-up. Different crew chief. Going with a coil-bind set-up rather than a conventional set-up."
And as his point lead continues to grow, Lofton is also going with a lot more confidence.
"Confidence has a lot to do with it. I didn't have the greatest year last year; but I certainly learned a lot. I think the biggest thing I learned was that you make your own luck. You put yourself in a position to have luck.
"Mark (Rette/crew chief) and I spend a lot of time together. We know what each other's thinking. We know that we have to position ourselves so that what happens on the track happens for the good, not the bad. We were in position for good things to happen yesterday (at Pocono)."
Lofton was also in position for a little networking Sunday at Pocono before heading off toward the Irish Hills of lower Michigan.
"Not sure if I'm going to stay all day or just head off to MIS. But I'm definitely going to hang around for a little bit, so people know I'm around. Rather walk through the Cup garage as the winner though."
Winner or not, people are getting to know who Lofton is.
"Biggest thing is, is that I don't always have to introduce myself anymore. When I walk through the Nationwide and Cup garage, people are starting to come up to me and congratulate me, which is nice.
"Todd Braun (Nationwide Series car owner) came up to me a little while back and congratulated me - told me I was having an awesome year. That's a nice change for me.
"With the economy as it is, no one really knows where we're at, but I still feel like it's important that I hang around and meet people. I've gotten some calls lately; I think we're going to be okay.
"But right now we have a championship to concentrate on, and that's what we're doing. And if we can continue to build up our point lead, we can start trying some new things - maybe play with the front-end geometry a little more, maybe roll the dice on some pit stops. Winning another race would definitely be nice."
On-track activity for the Racing for Wildlife 200 at Michigan Int'l Speedway begins Thursday, June 11 with practice from 10:00 AM to 12 noon. Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell follows at 3:00 PM. The Friday afternoon Racing for Wildlife 200 is live on SPEED at 5:00 PM. In addition, the ARCA Racing Network will carry live streaming audio coverage and live timing & scoring of all the on-track activity for the Racing for Wildlife 200 at ARCAracing.com inside the ARCA Nation. Tickets for the Racing for Wildlife 200, which, in addition to the 200-mile ARCA race, include NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice and qualifying and two practice sessions for the Camping World Truck Series, are just $15. Children, 12 and under, are admitted free. For ticket info, call 1-800-354-1010 or go to www.mispeedway.com.