The path to Victory Lane for three-time Langley Speedway track champion Brenden Queen in the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway came down to a matter of survival.
An evening dominated by tire conservation, intense racing and heated rivalries culminated with Queen holding off Carson Kvapil for a crown jewel victory in his debut race with Lee Pulliam Performance.
Queen admitted Saturday’s triumph in the South Carolina 400 served as major validation for him by proving to the entire short track community that he can win at any facility on the East Coast.
“I finally win away from [my home track of] Langley,” Queen said. “Everybody questioned if I was a one-track wonder, but we proved [on Saturday] we can get it done down South. We’re taking [this] trophy back to Virginia.”
After carefully conserving his equipment during the first two stages, the opportunity for Queen to pounce on the lead came with 20 laps remaining.
Mason Diaz, who had worked vigorously to get back to the front following an earlier spin, found himself battling South Carolina short track veteran and 2007 Myrtle Beach 400 winner Sam Yarbrough for the win over a handful of late restarts.
As Diaz tried to clear Yarbrough off Turn 2, the latter was forced off track before miraculously saving his car in front of oncoming traffic. Yarbrough was not pleased with Diaz’s aggressive maneuver but was allowed to maintain his spot on the front row.
Yarbrough retaliated against Diaz on the following restart in Turn 4, which prompted Diaz to retire from the race by climbing out of his car in Florence’s frontstretch Victory Lane and doing a mock celebration with his crew.
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) November 20, 2022
With two of the fastest cars eliminated from contention, Queen and Kvapil were left to settle the South Carolina 400 amongst themselves during the closing laps. Queen perfectly executed all his restarts to keep plenty of distance between himself and Kvapil.
Fresh off another second-place finish in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, Kvapil wanted to end his stellar rookie season with JR Motorsports by earning a crown jewel victory while competing alongside his boss Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Despite the disappointment, Kvapil admitted he was relieved to avoid the chaos that broke out between Diaz and Yarbrough.
“I honestly didn’t know if we were going to wreck out,” Kvapil said. “It was getting pretty sketchy with [Diaz and Yarbrough]. They were beating and banging pretty good before they decided to wreck each other. It was a battle just to finish, but once those guys cleared themselves out, we were focused on winning.”
Saturday’s performance highlighted Kvapil’s efficiency at Florence in his limited starts, as he finished second to Ty Majeski in last year’s South Carolina 400 after leading 38 laps.
Kvapil’s trips to Florence have taught him many valuable lessons regarding patience behind the wheel. He is confident he can one day utilize that knowledge by parking his Late Model Stock in Victory Lane.
“It’s basically been a letdown for us with every race [at Florence],” Kvapil said. “This one doesn’t hurt as bad knowing we didn’t have the best car. We had the best car in last year’s race, but luck didn’t favor us. There’s always next year.”
Rounding out the top three finishers in Saturday’s South Carolina 400 was Isabella Robusto, who was thrilled to put together a strong performance in the physically demanding event.
Robusto’s goal for the weekend was to simply gain valuable experience in tire conservation at Florence. As the carnage started to unfold during the final stage, Robusto methodically picked off her competition to provide herself a much-needed confidence boost heading into the offseason.
“We started 30th in this race and just wanted a Top 10 finish,” Robusto said. “I was able to keep the nose clean for the first 150 laps, and then I knew we had to go 110 percent with the new tires on. Next thing I knew, I was restarting fourth with three laps to go.”
Queen also enters the winter with plenty of high expectations following his first outing with Lee Pulliam Performance.
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) November 20, 2022
Piloting a car for a successful driver like Pulliam, whose accomplishments include four NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, was something Queen knew would carry plenty of significance when he first signed the deal, which is why he wanted to make a strong first impression in the South Carolina 400.
Queen responded by adding his name to the list of South Carolina 400 winners that include Pulliam, Josh Berry, Timothy Peters and Scott Riggs, a feat Queen said is very close to his Hampton Heat triumph he obtained at Langley in 2020.
“This might be the biggest win of all with how everything played out,” Queen said. “Luckily, I didn’t wreck anybody to win it, but I did use her up a little bit. She had enough left in her to get the job done.”
Now that he knows the potential he and Pulliam possess as a combination, Queen is eager to keep working with the Late Model Stock legend and continue to bolster his growing resume in the discipline.
“This gives us such huge momentum,” Queen said. “We really feel we can win every race we show up to. When you have confidence in yourself to win, the sky is the limit.”