Sponsorship concerns push Justin Lofton to second circuit
Justin Lofton keeps the trophy from his Camping World Truck Series victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the mantle above his fireplace, so he sees it each time he walks into his house. He purposefully left space on either side, in hopes of providing it with company some day.
He could have ample opportunity this season, given that he’ll be piloting not just one type of race truck, but two. In a move made partly due to sponsorship concerns and partly to ensure the driver seat time, Lofton will split the 2013 campaign between his Truck Series ride at Eddie Sharp Racing and an off-road stadium truck circuit founded by former NASCAR racer Robby Gordon.
Ideally, Lofton said he’d like to compete full-time in the Truck Series and race the stadium circuit on his off weekends. But his No. 6 team at ESR currently has sponsorship for only 10 events, which, for the 26-year-old California native, could mean more time on the dirt.
“We’ve just got to do what we can,” Lofton said. “I’m not giving up on NASCAR racing. I’m not going in a different direction. I know I need to be in a race car, and that’s how I can make sure I’m in one. That’s kind of how it is, and we’ll revisit everything as sponsorship comes along.”
It all comes on the heels of a 2012 season during which Lofton broke through in the Truck Series, claiming his first race victory and emerging as a title contender until fading late in the year. Sharp purchased the assets of the former Kevin Harvick Inc. in 2011 and Lofton said the team opened the 2012 season with the primary goal of winning a race. That was achieved at Charlotte in May, where Lofton led 44 laps and outran eventual Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski at the finish.
"The big thing is, I want to race. I need to stay behind the wheel of something as much as possible."
-- Justin Lofton
The only problem? It was just the fifth event of a 22-race season.
“We got distracted and lost momentum,” Lofton conceded. “We didn’t know what to do past that.” He held the points lead for three weeks after the victory, stood as high as third in midsummer and then plummeted to a final standing of eighth after a rough finish that included three crashes in four weeks.
Lofton believes the team will benefit from the experience.
“We’ve learned from that,” he said, “and we know what to do right in 2013, whether I’m in the truck, or someone else is in the No. 6 truck, or even Max (Gresham) in the No. 8 truck. ESR knows what to do right to get a truck to the championship.”
Even if it happens while he’s off racing something else. Lofton has off-road in his background, and Gordon’s circuit is modeled on the defunct Mickey Thompson series that helped further the careers of current NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears. But Lofton is adamant that he’s not giving up on the Truck Series -- in fact, he believes he’s reached the point where he can contend for race victories even if he’s not competing full-time.
“Definitely,” he said. “That’s why I feel comfortable with it. I know I can get in a truck at certain events, and they’re mostly going to be mile-and-a-half, bigger venues, and be competitive. I know we can go down to Daytona and have a chance at winning that race. If I don’t run Martinsville and we go to Kansas, I know we can go win Kansas. I know we can do that. With me being in a vehicle every weekend, it’s only going to help.”
Lofton will be in the Truck Series opener at Daytona, where he finished third last year. The first real conflict comes during the circuit’s second race, April 6 at Martinsville, which is on the same day as a stadium truck event in Phoenix.
“We hope we’re at Martinsville,” Lofton said. But right now, he isn’t sure. The only thing he knows is that he’ll be behind the wheel of a truck that day -- even if he isn’t certain exactly which kind.
“The big thing is, I want to race,” he said. “I need to stay behind the wheel of something as much as possible.”