A calm and procedural ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday quickly turned chaotic over the final laps of the race. Contenders such as Josh Berry, Peyton Sellers, Bubba Pollard, and Layne Riggs all saw their hopes for a grandfather clock come to an abrupt end after being involved in restart crashes, which allowed Late Model veteran CE Falk III to come away with his first victory at Martinsville.
One driver that was a witness to all of the chaos in overtime was Oak Ridge, North Carolina native Brandon Pierce, who methodically worked his way through both of the accidents in front of him to bring his #42 Solid Rock Carriers Late Model home in third. Pierce believed that he had a car more than capable of challenging for the victory but was pleased that he was able to bring home a solid finish in a talented Late Model field.
“We had a really, really good weekend,” Pierce said. “That place has not been my strongest, and not really because of performance, but due to lack of track time. This weekend was only my third trip there, and there weren’t any struggles this time. I was telling somebody that this might be the only time that I’ve ever been dejected running third, but looking back on that night, I’m really proud of our effort.”
Pierce was making his third visit to the historic short track this weekend and has improved his performance in every single attempt. Pierce ended up missing the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 in 2016 after being involved in a crash during his heat race, and would be involved in another heat race accident in 2017, but managed to race his way into the main event and come home with a ninth-place finish.
Pierce entered Martinsville with a lot of confidence in the speed of his #42 Late Model, which he had to change from his traditional #2 after NASCAR outlawed duplicate numbers for the weekend. Pierce credited his strong 2018 season to all of the hard work that Nelson Motorsports has put into his car but admitted that speed only counts for so much when it comes to racing against elite Late Model drivers.
“You can have the smartest people in the world working on your stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you to go out there and do it,” Pierce said. You make up and lose time under braking, and you have to ride the curb without hitting it. You can win the race by riding the curb, as you can save your tires, makeup so much time and not really push your car.”
Pierce’s car backed up his confidence, as it showed incredible speed once everyone hit the track on Friday morning after rain washed out Thursday’s test session. Pierce set the fifth fastest time in qualifying and earned a dominating victory in the third heat race of the afternoon, which allowed him to retain his fifth-place starting position behind drivers that included former ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winners in Tommy Lemons Jr. and Philip Morris.
Pierce was able to carry over his blistering pace in practice in qualifying, as he climbed his way up to the third position and followed Berry and Falk into the halfway break. Pierce was also able to avoid two congested restarts that knocked Lemons and polesitter Stacy Puryear out of contention for the evening and entered the Lap 100 break with momentum going into the second half.
Pierce’s team would take four tires during the intermission, but he later admitted that the set his team put did not agree with the car, as his car severely tightened up during the next 80 laps. Pierce would go from battling for the lead to holding off drivers such as Matt Leicht and Myatt Snider for a spot inside the Top 10, but he was able to hold on to the eighth position as the race went into overtime after a big crash on the frontstretch.
On the first green-white-checkered attempt, Pierce was lined up on the outside of Row 4 with race-leader Berry taking the high line for the restart alongside Sellers. Pierce recalls seeing smoke and his fellow competitors scatter after Sellers spun out Berry in front of the field, but Pierce checked up and cut his car to the bottom of the track in order to avoid making contact with the stalled #88.
Pierce had planned to line up on the outside once again for the next restart, but his crew chief encouraged him to take the inside of the fourth row. Looking back on the accident now, Pierce believes that his crew chief made the correct call in moving him to the bottom of the track, as Riggs would take the race leaders of Sellers and Pollard three-wide, which triggered another accident.
“When Layne, Peyton, and Bubba got together, the track was completely blocked,” Pierce said. “I got on the brakes, and Philip was in front of me, and I could tell that he hadn’t made up his mind yet on where he wanted to go. Either Layne or Peyton were in the middle of the track, and I saw Philip pull his car down, so I knew the only option was to shoot for the grass. Any time a car hits the grass at Martinsville it normally doesn’t end well.”
Pierce was able to drift his car through the grass and come out on the other side with no damage, while Morris made contact with another vehicle and was forced to come to pit road. Pierce and his crew briefly argued with NASCAR over their placement in the running order, as they believed that they had emerged from the wreck in front of the field, but Pierce would be put in the fourth position behind the veteran of Falk and the rookie of Corey Heim.
When the green flag dropped, the trio of Falk, Heim, and Pierce pulled away from the rest of the field in order to settle the battle for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 victory amongst themselves. However, an attempt by Trevor Noles to go three-wide into Turn 1 failed, causing a six-car pileup behind the leaders and forced NASCAR to end the race under caution, giving Falk the victory and Pierce a solid third-place finish.
Although Pierce had hoped to battle Falk and Heim for the win, he was satisfied to leave an attrition-filled ValleyStar Credit Union 300 with a third-place finish. Pierce applauded Nelson Motorsports for all of the hard work they put into his car, and thanked his family, friends, and sponsors for all of his support, adding that he looks forward to picking up a grandfather clock of his own in the near future.
“There’s absolutely nothing to hang your head about if you can go to Martinsville, finish third and have your car in one piece,” Pierce said. “We ran up front all night, and I have to thank everyone who came on board this weekend like Solid Rock Carriers and Thunder Road-Harley Davidson. Without all of those people, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
Pierce has the Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway on Oct. 20 circled on his calendar, but he has not ruled out running the Rodney Cook Classic at Ace Speedway despite the two races being run on back-to-back weekends. Pierce will then conclude his 2018 season with the CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour finale at South Boston Speedway on Nov. 3rd, followed by the Myrtle Beach 400 on Nov. 17th.
📸: Corey Latham