A calm and orderly start to the MTP Tire 300 at Hickory Motor Speedway quickly transformed into a race filled with attrition following a competition caution on Lap 40, as numerous accidents eliminated several strong contenders such as Layne Riggs, Justin Carroll, and many others.

Through the chaos emerged first-time winner Taylor Gray, as well as a surprise third-place finisher in Brody Pope, who started his evening in the 16th position. Pope was optimistic that he would put together a strong performance in the #1 J&P Concrete Pumping Chevrolet for Lee Faulk, but he admitted that his third-place showing on Saturday came as a decent surprise to him.

“It felt pretty good, especially since it was only our second CARS Tour race,” Pope said. “With that being our first race at Hickory in Late Model Stocks, I didn’t really know what to expect, and I didn’t think we would run in the Top 3, but everything went really well.”

Pope made his CARS LMSC Tour debut on March 9 at Southern National Motorsports Park, which ended prematurely after he was involved in an accident on Lap 27. Despite the misfortune, Pope entered the MTP Tire 300 with confidence after previously logging laps at Hickory in a Limited Late Model.

In a strong field of 29 competitors, Pope was able to turn some decent laps in practice prior to the start of the 150-lap Late Model feature, as he posted the fifth fastest time in the first Saturday practice before fading the 17th in the second and last session. Pope improved on both of his best times in qualifying, but his run was only able to secure him a starting position of 16th.

When the green flag dropped, Pope initially struggled to make his through the field and was even forced to bring his Late Model down on pit road after the first competition caution when the motor began to shut off on him. Pope’s crew was unable to find any terminal issues with the car and sent him back out onto the track, where he had a front row seat to all the mayhem that ensued.

Brody Pope (1) leads Jacob Heafner and Tanner Gray (54) during the early stages of the MTP Tire 300 CARS Tour race at Hickory Motor Speedway on March 23, 2019. (Kimberly Austin photo)

“There were a lot of wrecks and a lot of carnage,” Pope said. “My spotter pretty much guided me through everything and told me to keep the tires on the car. We just had to miss all of the cautions, and the cautions really helped us get up to the front. The speed of our car is what kept us up there.”

After avoiding the first big accident of the evening that took out drivers such as Camden Gullie, Ronald Hill and several others, Pope methodically worked his way towards the front and found himself inside the Top 10 after the second competition at Lap 92. Several more cautions would slow the race down and allow Pope to pass drivers such as Bobby McCarty and Bradley McCaskill, eventually putting himself in fourth place.

Pope would pass 2017 CARS LMSC Tour champion Josh Berry within the last 25 laps to move into third, but he could only watch as Gray and Tommy Lemons Jr. battled it out for the win in front of him. When the checkered flag flew, Pope held on to the third position, but he had hoped that another caution would come out so that he could make a run at Gray and Lemons for the win.

“Gray and Lemons were really good,” Pope said. “I would say that about three to five laps in a run, our car was better or one of the best that was there, especially on the outside. We could really make the outside line work, particularly right after a caution.”

The strong performance in the MTP Tire 300 has given Pope confidence heading into the rest of the 2019 Late Model season, which is expected to include most of the remaining races on the CARS LMSC Tour calendar.

Pope does not plan on competing in the upcoming Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway, and will instead focus on the next two Late Model events at Hickory, where he believes he will once again have a car more than capable of bringing home a victory.

Cover photo by Jaden Austin