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Published: Thursday, 6/11/2009

MIS offers Lofton opportunity to advance

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BROOKLYN, Mich. Justin Lofton can mail out resumes and send people video footage and even show them pictures of his racing trophies, but his best opportunity to sell himself likely will come when he has his prospective future employers as a captive audience.

And that chance to play on the big stage while the NASCAR brass and the Sprint Cup Series bosses are watching is here at Michigan International Speedway in tomorrow s ARCA RE/MAX Series race.

ARCA runs its Racing for Wildlife 200 at MIS just after the Sprint Cup Series completes its qualifying session on the two-mile track, and Lofton has accomplished enough to get people s attention turned to that event.

After seven races, Lofton leads the ARCA championship chase, and he has six finishes in the top three to document his success. He won at Talladega and has been second four times, including at Toledo Speedway in the May 17 ARCA race.

The biggest thing is that I don t always have to introduce myself anymore, Lofton said about his blossoming reputation. When I walk through the Nationwide and Cup garage, people are starting to come up to me and congratulate me, which is nice.

Lofton is a California native who started out racing downhill mountain bikes at 11. He then moved on to off-road desert racing and then to NASCAR s Grand National West Series. After moving into the ARCA ranks in 2008, Lofton finished 13th in points, with his lone win last year coming at MIS.

I can t wait for Michigan, Lofton said after finishing second at Pocono last weekend. We re going to be a lot stronger this year. We had a really strong test there.

We re bringing the same car to MIS that we ran at Pocono. We know exactly what we have, what the car does and the adjustments the car needs.

A win at MIS would further solidify Lofton s growing hold on the ARCA points lead and hasten his determined march toward the championship, which he sees as crucial to upgrading his stock for a move to the next level.

The championship is a big deal to me very big, Lofton said. This is not just about seat-time for me. In fact, that s why this whole deal came together this year [in ARCA]. We all had one common goal the championship. It s huge for me. I want it bad.

Just last year, the ARCA championship opened the door into the NASCAR club for Justin Allgaier, who now drives for Penske Racing in the Nationwide Series.

The championship is why I m not exploring other opportunities right now, Lofton said. I don t want to dare take any focus away from this team and our common goal.

The ARCA Series, which dates back to 1953 when it was founded by John Marcum, a friend and associate of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., has long been the platform where stock car drivers have demonstrated their skills before securing their seat in NASCAR. Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, David Stremme, Jeremy Mayfield, Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader and Tony Stewart all have ARCA stamps on their Sprint Cup passports.

ARCA president Ron Drager, Marcum s grandson, said the series has long been a place where up-and-coming young drivers like Lofton have been able to match skills and wits against other would-be young guns, seasoned veterans and part-time racers.

That s long been one of the attractions of this series you get a real interesting mix of drivers in the field on any given weekend, Drager said. You also get a chance to see a number of drivers who likely will be driving in the Cup Series before too long.

Lofton hopes he will be in that group, and soon, so tomorrow at MIS he presses on toward an ARCA title.

We re building up our points, looking at the bigger picture, Lofton said.

RACING FOR WILDLIFE: Tomorrow s ARCA RE/MAX Series race at MIS is the Racing for Wildlife 200, sponsored by Racing for Wildlife a union of racing fans and conservationists. The Conservation Fund and the Ryan Newman Foundation started the program last year to preserve land areas for wildlife and sports enthusiasts who share the Indiana native Newman s concern for the outdoors.

Newman, who made his stock car racing debut at MIS in a 2000 ARCA race, is in his eighth season full-time in the Sprint Cup Series.

Contact Matt Markey at:mmarkey@theblade.comor 419-724-6510.



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