Nobody could accuse the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series of a boring show as the series returned in Charlotte from a month-long hiatus. Drivers traded paint with each other and Charlotte’s retaining walls for every one of the 134 laps in the race, and when the dust settled on the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, it was Justin Lofton standing in victory lane for the first time in his CWTS career. It was also the first CWTS win for owner Eddie Sharp, who purchased the team from Kevin Harvick, Inc. when that team shut down at the end of 2011.
Lofton started the night on the outside of row one with polesitter Ty Dillon, but it was hardly a Sunday drive for the 26-year-old Westmorland, California native, who ran as low as 20th before capturing the victory. Brad Keselowski, Todd Bodine, Jason Leffler, and Ron Hornaday, Jr. rounded out the top 5.
When the green flag dropped, Dillon was able to jump out to the lead, where he stayed for the first 25 laps of the race. Dillon was forced to try to hold his lead through three early restarts. Rookie Brennan
Newberry spun his No. 14 on lap three after contact with Jennifer Jo Cobb, bringing out the first yellow flag of the evening. Nobody else was collected, and the lap six restart was solid for Dillon, who jumped out to a quick lead over Joey Coulter, who fell back to fifth.
The green flag was out for just six laps before the caution flew again on lap 12 as Ross Chastain’s engine detonated, causing a five-lap yellow flag for cleanup. Chastain was relegated to a 35th-place finish. Dillon held the led again when the race restarted. Coulter’s rough night continued as he bounced off the wall on lap 20, though the race stayed under green. Meanwhile, the battle for second heated up between James Buescher and Brad Keselowski, and there was jockeying for position throughout the pack.
This time, it lasted just five laps until the caution flew again on lap 24 as rookie John King slapped the wall in the No. and 7 truck, bringing the leaders to pit road for the first time. Dillon’s team gambled on a fuel-only stop and won the race off pit road, but the gamble proved to be a losing on as Dillon was quickly shuffled back on the lap 26 restart. Ryan Sieg held the point until lap 30, when James Buescher took over for the next ten laps, which included a second spin by Newberry, but this time Newberry was able to get to pit road and the race stayed green.
The green flag had its longest appearance of the night from lap 30 to lap 75. Both Dillon and Johnny Sauter had to make unscheduled pit stops during that stretch, Dillon for a flat right front tire and Sauter for a fuel pickup problem that would plague his team until a cable could be replaced, costing Sauter seven laps. By the time the yellow came back out for Newberry’s third spin of the night, the leaders were ready for fresh tires and fuel. Timothy Peters was the leader coming onto pit road, and held it on the way out of the pits. Peters led until lap 84, when Lofton took the point for the first time…just in time for another caution.
Paulie Harraka got loose on lap 85 and bounced off of David Reutimann’s truck before spinning in traffic and collecting Buescher. Lofton elected to stay out, making a huge gamble on fuel mileage. Caution number six helped his cause just five laps later as Nelson Piquet, Jr. slammed the wall on his own and, shedding debris, couldn’t get to pit road.
When the race returned to green, Lofton was able to hold the lead for 19 laps, enduring Newberry’s fourth spin of the night (the race stayed green this time) before Brad Keselowski took it away for six laps, until caution No. 7 which also came courtesy of Piquet finding the wall. Kesleowski was trying to get Dodge its first CWTS win since Dennis Setzer took the checkers at Martinsville in 2008, but Lofton got a tremendous push on the lap 124 restart from Jason White, and was able to take over for the final time, despite having to endure fuel mileage questions and one final restart then Buescher lost his rear bumper bar after contact from Cobb.
Ron Hornaday ran into the back of Keselowski’s truck on the final restart with five laps to go, getting Keselowski loose and taking the battle for second three wide. Keselowski recovered and retook second, but didn’t have enough for Lofton, who cruised to the win as well as the points lead on the strength of five top-10 finishes in five races. Lofton now leads CWTS points by one over Timothy Peters. Ty Dillon, James Buescher, and Parker Kligerman round out the top 5 in the standings.
“This is amazing. I really don’t even know what to do. This day’s been a long time coming,” said Lofton from victory lane. “This entire week, it was one of those weeks where I was just real calm, real excited about the race. I’ve seen all the hard work. It’s just amazing to be able to do it for these guys. I’ve seen all the hard work that Dan (Bormann) puts in, day in and day out. Dan believed in me, taking a chance, quitting a job, coming over to take over as crew chief. He has done an amazing job.”
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