Josh Berry‘s victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Martinsville Speedway was something special. A career short-track ace, the only thing holding Berry back from a successful career in NASCAR is money. Berry drives a Dale Earnhardt Jr. owned late model at several short tracks around the country. He has multiple short track championships at Hickory Motor Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway.
Berry has run six of the seven Xfinity Series races in 2021 and after his victory at Martinsville Speedway, it was suggested that JR Motorsports should apply for a waiver to have Berry run for the Xfinity Series title. A waiver comes at the discretion of NASCAR and they have been handed out in several scenarios in the past.
That got us thinking: Should NASCAR grant a waiver to Berry after his win at Martinsville? Mark Kristl and Clayton Caldwell debate.
Playoffs Don’t Need Subjectivity, but Add Berry
“Win and you are in” is how the NASCAR playoff field is marketed. It is that simple, right? No, a driver must attempt all the races and finish inside a certain spot in the point standings to make the playoffs. Add in that the regular-season points champ also makes the playoffs, theoretically knocking out one winner, and it becomes more complicated. Still, it is straightforward with no gray areas.
Except playoff waivers make the playoff fields murky. Teams must request playoff waivers from NASCAR, and in some cases, the waivers are not needed as drivers still fail to make the playoffs. The playoff waiver format is a subjective decision by series officials. That is problematic. Once subjectivity is included in a rule, there needs to be a correction.
How then does Berry fit into this situation? He has not attempted every race and is not slated to compete in every race once Sam Mayer becomes the primary driver of the No. 8 car. If JR Motorsports applies for a playoff waiver for Berry, should NASCAR grant one to him? No – he has not attempted every race. However, if he ran the rest of this season, it would be in a competitive ride, and that increases the storylines for races as well as interest in whether this short-track ace could be a factor in the playoffs.
Furthermore, JR Motorsports is seeking sponsorship for Berry for the rest of this season.
— Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) April 11, 2021
In response, Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis offered Berry a one-race sponsorship deal with a contingency for it to be extended. Tire Pros then came onboard for two more races. Berry’s name recognition already has risen, a selling point for potential sponsors. JR Motorsports in turn could use the newfound sponsorship to secure Berry a ride beyond Mayer’s scheduled debut in the No. 8 at Pocono Raceway.
Once Mayer debuts, Berry lacks a ride. So, for his waiver request to be approved, he would need a ride for the rest of this season. However, the Xfinity Series has full fields, even preventing Jordan Anderson from competing in races. So, the team would need to secure a ride for Berry by either aligning with another team or purchasing owners’ points. If the organization is successful in that regard, it has a legitimate case for a playoff waiver for Berry. As a result, NASCAR then is placed in a precarious situation.
NASCAR would have to decide whether a fully-funded driver who won a race and could compete in most of the races this season should be awarded a playoff waiver. Would NASCAR deny that request? Saying no to popular team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. seems about as probable as allowing Richard Petty Motorsports to close.
Whether NASCAR should or would deny a playoff request are two differing issues. Unfortunately, there is uncertainty regarding that request when series officials granted a playoff request to Matt Kenseth last year. Kenseth never intended to compete in NASCAR last year. But the Kyle Larson saga brought him out of retirement to pilot the No. 42. Before his first race with Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR already accepted the team’s playoff waiver request. So, the precedent has been set – why not continue it in this scenario?
Additionally, NASCAR currently grants them for drivers once they turn 18 in the Truck Series such as Tyler Ankrum; it granted one to suspended Johnny Sauter; it granted one to injured Kyle Busch (in 2015), but it denied one for Spencer Gallagher, who was suspended for violating its substance abuse policy.
Playoff waivers have become far too subjective. That automatically should be corrected. Objectivity may not please all, but it is an obvious ruling then. To rectify all these situations regarding playoff waivers, as I previously argued, NASCAR should abolish the qualification of attempting all races for playoff eligibility. Instead, maintain the “win and you are in” option as well as the points threshold for the respective series. Eliminating the attempts requirement will not mean drivers will only compete in a handful of races, win a race, and make the playoffs. With stage points, drivers will need to compete in the vast majority of races to stay inside the points threshold.
This change eliminates possible controversies surrounding playoff waivers, it still forces drivers to regularly compete, and it opens the door for more storylines. This all benefits NASCAR and establishes objectivity. In sports, we all want fairness. Playoff waivers cloud the fairness of the series officials. It is time to fix that.
Until then, NASCAR has decided subjectivity can and will play a role in which drivers are eligible for its playoffs. If that is the case, it is time to grant Josh Berry a playoff waiver. – Mark Kristl
Nice Story, but No Waiver Should Be Issued
A big smile came to my face when I saw Josh Berry leading the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Martinsville Speedway. A driver with a ton of talent showing what he could do when given an opportunity? It was refreshing to see. Even better was to see him hold off his teammate Noah Gragson and go to victory lane. While it was a great story and a great moment, it doesn’t mean NASCAR should issue a waiver for him to run for the Xfinity Series championship in 2021.
I remember back when NASCAR introduced the “win and you’re in” playoff format. It created the waiver system to try and keep its championship format legit. You can’t just have drivers picking and choosing the races they run and still be eligible for a championship. That’s not what this championship should be about.
We all understand when a driver gets injured that a waiver should be issued. That’s what it is for. A waiver is for a situation like when an organization fails to put SAFER barrier around its most prestigious racetrack and one of the sport’s star drivers hits the unprotected wall and breaks several bones in his legs. That constitutes a waiver being issued.
I don’t think too many people have an issue with a waiver being issued for when a driver is injured or has a medical problem. It used to be a sign of weakness if you didn’t race injured, but the sport is better off letting drivers heal properly before getting back into a racecar.
However, when we start picking and choosing when drivers get waivers and when they don’t, you get a very sticky situation. Look at the Matt Kenseth waiver situation from last season. A lot of people argued that Kenseth deserved a waiver because of the unique situation that the No. 42 car was placed in after Kyle Larson’s suspension. Yet, all that did was it open a can of worms for future waiver requests. NASCAR can no longer say that a driver has to run all the races unless injured. They can no longer say certain circumstances, like age or eligibility requirements, can get a playoff waiver.
That single decision has simply made it so a driver sitting on the couch for four races to start a season can be eligible for the championship via a waiver. If a similar situation comes up and they don’t grant a waiver, then they’ll be accused of inconsistency and favoritism. One decision leads to another and every time you lower the bar, someone else will come along and try to lower it even more. Granting Josh Berry a waiver situation would lower the bar even further.
There are numerous drivers who run part-time in the Xfinity Series. Sometimes it’s because that driver has other obligations, or the rules don’t let them to run more than a handful of races. However, most of the time a driver runs part-time is because a driver doesn’t have sponsorship to run the full schedule. That is the situation Josh Berry is in.
So far in the 2021 season, Berry has raced in all but one race and the reason he missed the Daytona Road Course is because Miguel Paludo got some support from BRANDT and drove the No. 8 Chevrolet.
If you allow Berry to run for the championship because he missed a race because of lack of sponsorship full-time, what’s next? Should a driver be given a waiver for simply missing a race?
Here’s a scenario that is unlikely but one that isn’t as farfetched as you think. It becomes increasingly likely if Berry receives a waiver from NASCAR.
Let’s say Martin Truex Jr. is locked into the playoffs and is the regular-season champion by the time we get ready for the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway. Truex and his team decide it is better for him to stay home from Daytona to focus on the playoffs a week later. Joe Gibbs Racing claims that the team couldn’t find the sponsorship to put Truex in that race and instead give Ty Gibbs the opportunity to drive the No. 19 car at Daytona because he’s young and the sponsorship price for him won’t be that high.
Truex, on the other hand, gets a waiver from NASCAR. He gets to skip one of the most dangerous races of the season and he gets to mentally prepare for a playoff run. The reason Truex got the waiver is because the bar was lowered with Berry. Once Truex is successful with this waiver claim, several other drivers who are in a similar position do the same thing and elect to skip the race at Daytona the following year. It creates a huge can of worms.
What would that do to NASCAR’s regular-season finale? Can you imagine trying to sell a race where a handful of star drivers decided to stay home because they all got waivers? It would be a huge mess.
That’s the kind of scenario that could happen if you allow a waiver for Berry. It lowers the bar for a waiver and that will ultimately affect the legitimacy of the playoffs and championship.
While Berry’s story is tremendous issuing him a waiver at this point would be counterproductive. It’s a shame that someone as talented as Berry can’t be in NASCAR full-time, but that’s a different discussion for a different debate. – Clayton Caldwell