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Lofton returns to defend Charlotte race win

May 16, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Amid partial season, ESR driver hopes strong showing will prevent sponsorship issues in 2014

Justin Lofton may no longer be a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series, but he wouldn’t miss the chance to defend his race victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The winner of last year’s Truck Series event during Sprint All-Star Race weekend, Lofton hasn’t made a start on the circuit since Daytona, where he finished fourth for Eddie Sharp Racing. Due to sponsorship issues, he likely won’t run again until Las Vegas in September. In the meantime, he’s been competing in two other series: a desert off-road tour and a stadium truck circuit founded by former NASCAR driver Robby Gordon.

This limited Truck Series slate is “not what we planned on happening,” said Lofton, a 27-year-old California native who finished eighth in the final standings last season. “When we left Homestead last year, our plan was to contend for the Camping World Truck Series title again. Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to make it happen again sponsorship-wise.”

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Lofton has some backing on the other two circuits, and has enjoyed some success away from NASCAR -- he’s is leading with points in his class in the desert series, and won a race at Long Beach, Calif., on Gordon’s stadium truck tour. As far as NASCAR is concerned, he calls himself “basically a driver for hire,” with only three more races scheduled this season with ESR.

“I’ve spent the last seven years racing full time in some sort of NASCAR series or stock-car series,” he said, “And now, to be sidelined …. I’d say we had a B average last year when we should have had an A-plus, but we definitely had a lot better year than some other people. But to be sidelined like this is definitely frustrating.”

In Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200, Lofton will drive ESR’s No. 6 truck, the same one he won in last season. Randy Dean will serve as crew chief.

Last year’s victory at Charlotte was Lofton’s first in the Truck Series. He led 44 laps in the event, and took the lead for good when he passed Brad Keselowski with 10 to go. With some extra track time for the Truck Series scheduled for Thursday at Charlotte, Lofton believes he can contend once again, even though he’s been away from the circuit since February.

“I think so,” he said. “The good thing is, Eddie has been running a team truck, the No. 8, all year. So they’ve been keeping up with what’s been going on, kind of the new setups the guys are trying. I have been driving, and seat time is crucial, so if I had been sitting on the couch the last couple of months, I’d probably be a little more worried than I am now. But I’m fortunate there’s the test day so I get five or six hours to get the feel for it again, and I sure hope I can be competitive.”

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