HARRISBURG, N.C. — It has been a year since Justin Lofton, then a second-year driver in the ARCA Racing Series, entered the season finale at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway hoping to claim the ARCA championship.
Lofton led the points heading into the event, holding a 15-point edge over Cunningham Motorsports driver Parker Kligerman. In order to win the championship Lofton, driving for Eddie Sharp Racing, had to finish the race no more than two positions behind Kligerman.
Talk about stressful.
“When I drove into Rockingham it was a really, really tight battle (for the championship),” Lofton told National Speed Sport News by phone Wednesday. “It had been since I think about July, which was when me and Parker would swap positions back and forth. It made things a lot of fun but at the same time it made things a little nerve wracking.
“It would have been much easier going into Rockingham knowing that if we finished 15th we would win the championship instead of having to finish a maximum of two cars behind him,” Lofton added.
Kligerman went on to lead the most laps and win the race, doing everything he could to steal the championship from Lofton. But Lofton did exactly what he needed to do, driving from the rear of the field after an engine change to finish third and claim the championship by the smallest of margins — five points.
“We knew we were capable of doing it (winning the championship),” Lofton said. “It was a really weird sense of stress, but at the same time a lot of joy and a lot of appreciation for what everyone had done all year to put us in that position.
“It was really cool to have been in that position and to win the championship at the end of it.”
Much like last year, the ARCA Racing Series enters the season finale at Rockingham with another tight points battle. This year three drivers — Patrick Sheltra, Craig Goess and Tom Hessert — have a legitimate opportunity to win the title.
Sheltra, on the strength of back-to-back victories at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and Chicagoland Speedway in August, leads the standings with 4,495 points.
Goess, in his second year driving for Eddie Sharp Racing, has one victory and is 10 points behind Sheltra. Cunningham Motorsports driver Tom Hessert, who also has one victory this year, is 20 points behind Sheltra.