Early trouble finds Lofton in Daytona, No. 7 team rallies to finish 18th NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Justin Lofton started 19th and finished 18th in his series debut at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, battling back...
Early trouble finds Lofton in Daytona, No. 7 team rallies to finish 18th
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Justin Lofton started 19th and finished 18th in his series debut at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, battling back after falling victim to a lap one accident.
"It's not the way that I wanted to start the season, but the guys did a great job of repairing the truck and salvaging a decent finish," Lofton said. "I really wish I would have been able to get up there and race my Red Horse Racing teammate Timothy Peters for the win, but we'll have to wait until Atlanta."
Lofton, who is the 2009 ARCA Racing Series champion, was optimistic entering his NCWTS debut weekend at Daytona after finishing third there last season in the ARCA event. With improving lap times throughout both practice sessions spanning Wednesday and Thursday, his confidence rightfully grew in his No. 7 VisitPIT.com Toyota Tundra. Though the speed chart doesn't hold as much merit on superspeedways as it does at other tracks, Lofton knew he had a stout machine by the way his No. 7 Tundra handled racing within a pack of trucks. Under the guidance of spotter Timmy McKichan, Lofton felt his way through the draft around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, telling crew chief Mark Rette that the team prepared a good truck and to expect a good run on Friday night.
After laying down the 19th fastest lap in qualifying on Thursday, the team readied for the race, but rain hampered their plans, delaying the NextEra Energy Resources 250 until Saturday night following the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
Once the sun set, it was time for the trucks to take center stage, with Lofton rolling off of the grid from the eighth row. Unfortunately, the tight racing that Daytona is known for, quickly proved its point yet again, as a wreck broke out before the field was able to complete lap one.
Lofton tried his best to avoid the melee but with trucks scattered across the racing surface, he wasn't left with many options. Lofton's No. 7 Tundra had its right side ripped open, prompting him to make numerous pitstops under the yellow flag for repairs.
With fears that the steering was off, crew chief Rette and crew got to work, feverishly taping, bolting, beating, and banging on the damaged machine. By the time the field saw the restart on lap 8, Lofton showed in the 29th position.
The field didn't stay green for long however, with another caution flag falling on lap 20. By that time, Lofton had felt a vibration under his truck, and under yellow, the left front tire let go. The extended caution flag then opened the door for the crew to make extensive repairs, allowing Lofton to stay in the race.
"It's speedway racing. We can't control it. We'll do the best we can. We're not going to give up," Rette radioed to his driver.
In addition to Rette's never give up attitude, the entire No. 7 crew epitomized determination through the night, with their handy work allowing Lofton to move into the 22nd spot by halfway.
As the laps wound down, Lofton continued his climb through the field, telling his crew, "I feel bad. This thing is good torn up; I can't imagine what it'd be like not torn up."
With multiple caution flags slowing the field through the conclusion of the race, Lofton kept his focus and drove on to finish just outside of the top 15, sliding into 18th, while Red Horse Racing teammate Timothy Peters grabbed the win in a dramatic dash to the finish line.
"We had a really good truck. I could tell by the way it drafted in practice that we would be good. I was careful out there, saving the truck for the race. But once the green flag dropped, it was out of my hands.
"I can't thank my guys enough; they didn't give up, and they just worked and worked to keep me out there. With these guys working with me and these strong Toyotas, we're going to have a great season after this."
Lofton and the No. 7 crew will have a few weeks away from the racetrack before returning at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 6th.