With Brad Keselowski dogging him to the finish line, and with just enough fuel to make it to the end of the race, Justin Lofton held off Brad Keselowski to win Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The victory was the first in the series for Lofton, who arrived at the finish line .261 seconds ahead of owner/driver Keselowski, who was trying to score his first NCWTS win. Lofton took over the series lead by one point over Timothy Peters.
Todd Bodine ran third, followed by Jason Leffler and Ron Hornaday Jr. After the race Keselowski had a heated exchange with Hornaday, stemming from contact between their trucks on the next-to-last restart with nine laps left.
After a lackluster start to the race, when he quickly dropped from second to seventh in the space of three laps, Lofton began learning.
“I had had terrible restarts all night,” Lofton said after the race. “The truck was not bad on the very first start of the race — I just had that bad a (start) and fell back that far. But the stars aligned, I figured out what I needed to do, and the best thing is, I outsmarted him (Keselowski).
“I think I had some help from Ron Hornaday, when he and Keselowski got in a little battle. Once I got out front (with four laps left), I knew I was OK. There was a short amount of laps left that I knew I could stay out front. I surprised myself, definitely.”
Keselowski had just cleared Lofton for the lead entering Turn 1 on Lap 119 when Nelson Piquet Jr. caused caution for the second straight time when he pancaked his No. 30 Chevrolet against the Turn 1 wall.
But Keselowski lost the lead on the restart on Lap 125 of 134 when Hornaday, who lined up behind him, ran into the back of his No. 19 Ram. To Keselowski, the contact was unjustified.
“I came on the radio and asked him, ‘Hey, man, I’ll play it cool; just be nice and smooth, and we’ll both have great days,” Keselowski said of his communication with Hornaday before the restart. “Instead he decided to be a jackass and just run me over.
“And it cost him what would have been an easy second place, and then it obviously cost me the win, so we both lost out on the deal.”
For Hornaday, who scored his first top-five finish with Joe Denette Motorsports, time was running short with just nine laps left.
“They stopped and played jackrabbit,” Hornaday said of Lofton and Keselowski, “and somebody got into the back of me, and I just had to go, too. Sorry about that to him, but we’re all looking for spots — and it’s pretty cool for Joe Denette Motorsports to get a top five.”
Lofton held the lead when caution flew for the eighth time with four laps left for debris in the form of a bumper bar in the racing groove. Keselowski fell back on the restart and didn’t have time to catch Lofton before the finish.