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Josh Berry opened his week by revealing he’d have full-time driving duties for JR Motorsports in 2022. Any earned mojo from the announcement carried into the weekend, where he reaffirmed he’s still a more-than-capable part-timer in the NASCAR Xfinity Series ranks this season.
Berry dazzled again in his first career start at Michigan International Speedway, leading 24 of 139 laps before settling in for a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s New Holland 250. The 30-year-old Tennessee native led until AJ Allmendinger took command on a Lap 122 restart, holding on for the eventual win through three overtimes. Berry apologized to his JRM crew on the radio after the checkered flag and struck a similar tone of regret in post-race interviews.
“When I go to sleep tonight I’m going to say that I ran fourth with the best car,” Berry told NBC Sports.
Berry, running a partial schedule in the Xfinity Series this year, was making his second start in the No. 1 Chevrolet as a replacement for Michael Annett, who is still recovering from surgery for a stress fracture in his right leg. Berry dropped to the back of the 40-car field in pace laps because of the driver change but quickly moved upward; he finished in the points at both stage breaks before the halfway mark.
The longtime Late Model ace inserted his name into the conversation for the win in the final stage, rising from the top-10 bracket into the top five. By Lap 88, he took the lead for the first time with a nifty three-wide move from third place, dispatching both Allmendinger and JRM teammate Justin Allgaier.
“That’s how you do it, boys!” Berry exclaimed to his crew after threading the Turn 2 gap past both cars. His No. 1 team concurred on the radio: “Yeah, that was pretty slick right there.”
Berry’s strength wasn’t lost on Allmendinger, who wrapped up his third win of the season Saturday and fortified his stature as a title contender.
“I mean, I think Josh is going to be like really, really tough next year,” Allmendinger said. “I mean, JR Motorsports is no doubt a great team, been around for a long time. I don’t come from that world of the short-track side of it, but I knew who Josh Berry was for a long time. And I just remember, I think, when he ran a couple of races for JR Motorsports, like a few years ago, maybe Richmond was one of those races where I thought he almost won that. He can get it done, so he’s gonna be really strong.”
On Saturday, a caution period for Jeb Burton’s fuel-less No. 10 Chevrolet was the first in a flurry of late yellows, setting up a handful of restart attempts that eventually forced the race into multiple overtimes. The shuffling on restarts kept Berry out of Victory Lane, but he did net his fifth top-five result in 17 starts this season.
Though the immediate disappointment hit home, Berry was still able to savor the full-scale positives from his year to date. Those high notes included his recent dose of job security as a fixture behind the wheel of JRM’s No. 8 Chevrolet next season.
“Man, it’s just been a whirlwind,” Berry said. “I’m just so thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had, everybody at JR Motorsports for believing in me, man. Today was another day that proved it. I’m disappointed that we didn’t win; I wish it would have went green. I think we were in a great spot but, you know, thankfully for me this week, we learned that I’m not going anywhere, so it’s really another really encouraging run. Looking forward to next year and everything else I got the rest of this year.”