Justin Lofton and the No. 6 CollegeComplete.com Eddie Sharp Racing (ESR) team knew following the first practice session at Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday that the day was going to be a good one. After laying down the 10th fastest time, Lofton told his crew that the truck was "pretty good," and despite a hiccup in qualifying which left him 29th for the start of the O'Reilly 200, the team had a stellar run through the finish on the fierce short track and ended the night with a seventh place showing.
"I had a great time out there. We were busy all night; whether it was passing trucks or avoiding the cautions. Dan (Bormann, crew chief) mapped out a game plan since we qualified a little further back than we had hoped, and it worked out perfectly," Lofton said.
After taking the green flag from the 29th position on a rare Wednesday night of racing at the .533-mile Bristol track, Lofton knew he had to keep a steady pace in order to not fall a lap down early, but at the same time, move through the field as quickly as possible. Early caution flags played into his hands, allowing him to maneuver his No. 6 CollegeComplete.com Toyota up the scoring pylon following each restart.
By the time the third caution flag waved on lap 53, Lofton was running in the 17th position. At that point, Bormann called Lofton down pit road for four fresh tires. With Lofton stating that the truck lacked just a little bit of grip through the center, Bormann opted to keep the stop short and simple without any major adjustments.
As the race hit the halfway mark at lap 100, Lofton showed in the 15th position. Since they were deep enough into the event, it became clear that pit strategy would weigh heavily into the final outcome of the race. Some of the leaders opted to pit earlier in the race, leaving their run to the finish questionable. Lofton and Bormann on the other hand, waited until after lap 50, ensuring a longer run. With just one stop in the books for the CollegeComplete.com ESR team, Lofton radioed to his crew under a caution flag 30 laps from the finish that he was in need of fresh tires. With all other leaders staying on track, Bormann overrode his request.
Other teams had no choice but to make a pit stop after running out of fuel prior to the restart. The ESR team's pit strategy played out as planned, with Lofton able to stay on track. With 17 laps to go, he took the restart from the ninth position.
One more caution flag waved over the event in the closing laps, with Lofton picking up two more positions to seventh.
"I'm really happy to leave Bristol with a top-10. The truck looks really good, no damage, hardly any signs of racing on a short track. We ran a clean race and stuck to our plan and it all paid off," Lofton added.
The seventh place finish was Lofton's best finish to date this season. It also resulted in a boost in the point standings for Lofton and team owner Eddie Sharp. Lofton moved from 18th to 15th in the driver standings while Sharp also picked up three spots in the owner standings to 18th.
Eddie Sharp Racing PR