The NASCAR Xfinity Series should introduce a new slogan: “The Xfinity Series: Where 30 is the new 20.”
The newest driver to claim a win in NASCAR’s second-tier national series wasn’t a baby-faced twentysomething who’d have trouble getting into a Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned “Whisky River” bar.
Instead, the driver who celebrated a win at NASCAR’s oldest track was 30-year-old Berry, bearded face and all.
To say it was a big moment for Berry, long-time JR Motorsports Late Model driver and the 2020 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion, and his team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., would be an understatement.
As the laps wound down in the 250-lap race, Earnhardt, who wasn’t at the track due to NASCAR’s COVID restrictions on owners attending, had trouble watching at home in his basement.
“With about 20 (laps) to go I got to where I couldn’t watch it anymore,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve never been so nervous about a finish. But finally, I think I peeked around the corner when he was getting the white (flag) and … had a pretty decent lead. So I finally got to where I could look at the TV screen. …
“I’ve never cried like I cried today over racing, anything I ever did, or anything my dad did,” Earnhardt added. “I don’t know why that brought that emotion out of me. Because I’ve never experienced that before. But I just wanted this so bad for Josh, maybe as bad as he wanted.”
This is the closest Berry’s gotten to a “real” shot at the Xfinity Series. Prior to 2021 he had seven series starts, five coming with JRM. Those were sprinkled throughout 2014-16. His best finish was seventh at Richmond in 2015.
“We just weren’t sure whether we’d really ever get the chance to give Josh enough opportunities,” Earnhardt said. “We gave him a few here and there. And getting a ‘shock the world’ kind of win in those one-off opportunities that come along every once in a while are tough to do. But we had a little string here of over a dozen races for him to run. And I thought, ‘Well, maybe we can have something special happen during this span.'”
That moment came Sunday at the midway point of the 12 races Berry is scheduled for. After that, he’ll be replaced by a typical “next big thing” in 18-year-old Sam Mayer, the 2020 ARCA Menards East champion.
Before last weekend, Berry’s time in the No. 8 had two unfortunate highlights: him giving Santino Ferrucci the double bird at Phoenix Raceway and the No. 8 getting airborne after plowing into the infield grass at Atlanta.
Only the Atlanta moment received a shirt design produced by JR Motorsports.
“I think going into this opportunity at the beginning of the year, I felt so ready coming off just that amazing season last year,” Berry said. “But to be honest, I was scared I wouldn’t win. We won almost 30 races, went anywhere, everywhere in the late model, and then to come into this and I’m 30 years old. I should be ready to win. The only chance I got is if I win. So yeah, I was worried about that. I wanted to win bad and improve myself. This is a big day for a lot of people. There’s been a lot of people that have helped me along the way. Too many to name, so I know they’re all really excited about this.”
The Xfinity Series, while primarily serving as a developmental series for up-and-coming-drivers, is also a series of second chances.
With Berry’s win, he joined teammate Justin Allgaier (34) and Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger (39) as drivers in their 30s who have won this season. Both are former Cup Series drivers who have enjoyed more success with their current teams than they ever did in the premier series.
However, Allgaier and Allmendinger are both full-time this season.
The clock, however unfairly it may be, is ticking on Berry’s first big chance.
“I’m 30, I really can’t wait around for much if opportunities do present themselves,” Berry said.
Said Earnhardt: “We know that he belongs in the Xfinity Series. And we know that he’s got the ability to win and succeed at that level and move on up to the Cup level someday. Just he doesn’t have that financial support that he needs. And we’re still working real hard to try to share that for him and hopefully things like this make a difference.”
Luckily for Berry, someone was paying attention Sunday.
After an exchange of tweets between Kelly Earnhardt-Miller (JR Motorsports’ vice president) and Marcus Lemonis, Camping World will be on Berry’s No. 8 Chevrolet next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
If Berry can win on NASCAR’s largest oval, Lemonis said he’s “guaranteed” four more races of sponsorship.
Earnhardt wants to see Berry earn “shock the world” race wins. Nothing would be more appropriate than a late model driver taming Talladega.
UPDATE (April 14)
Nevermind. Camping World won’t be on Berry’s car at Talladega. Instead Tire Pros, which has already sponsored Berry this season, has signed on for Talladega and Dover in the wake of his win.
My offer was accepted and Kelly and I worked together to find the right long term solution. They were successful in securing a longer program which is my primary objective. My role in the sport is to show the value, help the teams grow and give drivers a chance when I can
— Marcus Lemonis (@marcuslemonis) April 14, 2021
This Week in Weird
– There was a 12-car wreck in the Cup race at Martinsville. Yes, 12 cars. At Martinsville.
– Through eight races, Joey Logano remains the only Cup driver who won multiple times in 2020 to have won in 2021.
– At some point a Martinsville Cup race will get the full night race treatment. Thanks to COVID restrictions and rain, the track is 0 – 2.
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