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Lofton took scenic route to Truck race at the Rock

April 14, 2012, Joe Menzer,

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- It sounded like a good idea.

And like a true race car driver, even when his best-laid plans went awry, Justin Lofton made the best of it. Lofton thought it would be fun to ride his bicycle from Rockingham Speedway to downtown Rockingham for Thursday's parade of haulers from the Camping World Truck Series teams who are competing in this Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200.

"It's really special being back here, being part of the first time trucks have ever raced here and bringing NASCAR back to Rockingham."


"So I rode my bike from the track into town for the hauler parade," said Lofton, shaking his head. "Yeah, I know, it wasn't very smart."

Not when it didn't go as planned.

"I think it's 11 or 12 miles from the track into town. My original plan was I was going to go and meet my truck driver in town, and then ride with him through the parade and then ride back with him -- but he never stopped," Lofton said.

So Lofton not only had to ride his bicycle into town, he had to ride it back out. He decided the only way to deal with his derailed plans was to make the best of it.

"It was really cool riding, to be honest," Lofton said. "You get to see everything at a much slower pace. When we're driving, whether it's on the race track or not, we're always focused on going as fast as we can or getting to the next restaurant, or getting to the hotel as fast as we can. When I ride my bike, it really slows me down. I get to take the time to check out the scenery and really enjoy it."

On Friday, the only scenery Lofton was focused on was the asphalt on the 1.017-mile track that is hosting the Truck Series for the first time, and on the fast-approaching walls in each of its four highly banked corners. Formerly known as North Carolina Speedway, the track is hosting its first NASCAR-sanctioned event since the Cup Series last ran there in 2004 to end a run of four decades of NASCAR races.

"It's really special being back here, being part of the first time trucks have ever raced here and bringing NASCAR back to Rockingham," said Lofton, who enters Sunday's event third in the series point standings behind only Red Horse Racing teammates John King and Timothy Peters.

Lofton is no stranger to the facility, having concluded his 2009 ARCA Series championship season at the track that features old, bumpy, worn asphalt and multiple-groove racing.

"It's one of those places that's not very easy to drive, but I think it really suits my style when it comes to playing with the throttle and how you really have to drive the trucks here," Lofton said. "The first time I came here, I knew it was a special place. But when I came back in 2009, it really secured that feeling for me, getting to celebrate my championship here.

"It's just a place where there's nothing really tricky about it to me. You just go out and turn left and stand on the gas. You endure a couple bumps along the way, but that's where your experience really helps. The bumps and the moving around doesn't affect me as much as it might some others."

Nothing much has seemed to bother his No. 6 Chevrolet team from Eddie Sharp Racing this season. But he insisted the fast start to this season has been months in the making -- going back to the middle of last season when ESR formed alliances with Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines and began making plans to acquire leftover equipment from Kevin Harvick Inc. when that operation closed its doors at the end of last season.

"I think Chicago was our first race with a ECR-powered, KHI truck [this past July]. We started right then and there thinking about this year," Lofton said. "I wouldn't say we scrapped last year, but we were all about right then looking for the people we wanted to bring into the shop. We started thinking about what we wanted to do to get some decent equipment in to upgrade the fleet. We started forming our relationship with RCR.

"From there, I think we just came out locked and loaded for Daytona this year. Daytona and Martinsville probably have been my two worst races in my Truck career [prior to this season]. We had the mentality of just staying in line, staying in line and just getting to the finish -- and fortunately we were able to do that and finish third and fourth at Daytona and Martinsville."

That simply left Lofton hungry for more. And after his Tour de Rockingham bike ride Thursday, he's even more anxious to put on a good show for the fans who show up this Sunday.

"I got a first-hand view of how excited everyone is," said the 26-year-old Lofton, who is in his third full season of competing in the Truck Series. "Everywhere I went, every street corner I saw, there were people out there. There were even some people who said they were at the very first Rockingham race run here in Cup [in 1965]. So we're very excited to be racing here, and they're obviously excited to have us."