The closing laps of the 2020 Hampton Heat 200 saw Brenden Queen take home the victory in front of his home crowd after he made a three-wide move for the lead on a late-race restart, which eliminated two of the fastest cars in Corey Heim and Connor Hall
Heim’s teammate Brandon Pierce managed to get through the accident and finish behind Queen in the second position, which he hopes will give his team some momentum as they try to finish out an inconsistent 2020 campaign.
“We’ve had so much bad luck this year, so it feels good to finally put a run together,” Pierce said. “These Lee Pulliam Performance guys are one hell of a group and they deserve to run up front. I could taste the win tonight, but I’m really happy for these guys and we’re going to try and build on this.”
Although Pierce dealt with inconsistency in 2019, he managed to finish fourth in the Solid Rock Carriers CARS LMSC Tour standings after scoring four Top 5s and his first career win at Southern National Motorsports Park, which he accomplished after bumping Josh Berry out of the lead on the last lap.
Pierce began 2020 on a disappointing note by finishing 10th in the Icebreaker at Myrtle Beach Speedway and 16th in the CARS LMSC Tour opener at Southern National, but his opportunity to rebound was put on indefinite hold by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Once tracks along the East Coast received permission to resume operations, Pierce continued to struggle putting together Top 5 runs by scoring finishes of eighth and ninth in the Race at Ace 125 and the Race Face Tel-Med 300 at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Pierce entered the Hampton Heat 200 confident that he could earn his first Top 5 finish of 2020 and improve on his 20th-place finish from 2019. A qualifying time of 15.728 put him 14th on the 26-car grid, where he would start alongside last year’s winner in Hall.
Pierce succeeded in keeping his #2 Fremont Properties Chevrolet out of trouble and worked his way up to seventh by the time the second and final competition caution came out at Lap 150, but he knew that his placement in the running order would put him in jeopardy of getting caught up in a late-race accident.
“Our gameplan early was to ride, but I got us up to around 10th and we hung there for a while,” Pierce said. “Some of the guys behind me were putting on pressure during the restarts, so I went a little bit harder. We wanted to be fourth or fifth at the Lap 150 break because people get desperate on late-race restarts and you want to be on those first two rows.”
The chaos happened behind Pierce during the last 50 laps with drivers such as CE Falk III, Stacy Puryear and Colin Garrett all getting caught up in crashes. Pierce was unable to gain ground on the restarts and found himself in sixth with five laps remaining in the race.
On the penultimate restart, Pierce watched as Queen muscled Heim up into Hall, who lost control of his car and spun in front of the field, leaving Pierce with nowhere to go as he collided with the rear of Heim’s car, which caused minimal damage to his front end.
Pierce admitted that the damage ruined the handling on his car and prevented him from making a run at Queen, but he was able to pass Peyton Sellers on the ensuing green-white-checkered and held him off for second.
Although Pierce wanted to be the one celebrating in victory lane after 200 grueling laps, he considers himself fortunate that he and his crew were able to take part in the prestigious Late Model event during a period of uncertainty in the short track community.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not guaranteed anything,” Pierce said. “Kudos to Bill Mullis and everyone in Hampton for allowing this race to go on. I knew we had a really good race car, but this was the run we needed all year. When we put a whole race together, this is what we’re capable of.”
Pierce will look to obtain another strong showing on August 1 when the CARS LMSC Tour visits Hickory again for the Catawba Valley 250.