Over time, lack of experience, even if not on purpose, has marked many drivers that have contended for and won championships in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In recent years, guys like Austin Cindric, William Byron, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon have hoisted the series’ championship trophy. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It’s a great departure from the 1990s and into the early 2000s with drivers holding a bit more experience such as Jeff Green and Randy LaJoie, in addition to Scott Riggs and Jason Keller were the standard-bearers in what was then known as the NASCAR Busch Series. Today, guys like Ty Gibbs, Harrison Burton, Cindric, Riley Herbst and Noah Gragson have the top rides in the series garage, meaning that odds of them having a chance of contending to win each week are rather good.
Drivers like that, those that worked their way up rather than getting a top-level ride when they barely looked old enough to shave, may have diminished over time, but there will be a very strong exception next year: Josh Berry.
That’s because JR Motorsports announced this week that Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s gamble to dig into the ranks of hardened short-track racers has paid off in a big way thanks to Berry. Berry, who has four top-five finishes and a win in 16 races with JR Motorsports as well as a handful of others, will next year become a full-time driver for JRM after this year’s part-time schedule, meaning the short-track ace will be able to do what so many Saturday night short-track warriors can only dream of – race to show that they can not only best the talent on the short tracks, but do so on racing’s highest levels.
You’ll have to forgive Earnhardt Jr., who himself knows all about short-trackers through his own late model days, if he’s excited.
It definitely casts Berry, similar to Matt DiBenedetto in the NASCAR Cup Series, as an every-man driver that blue-collar fans from the local tracks can feel that is one of them, carrying the flag for them.
It absolutely means that Berry is and should not only be a fan favorite but, given what he has been able to do in his first extensive season, that he can and will contend for a title.
There’s no reason he should not be able to. While it can be argued that JR Motorsports this year has been a mixed bag with Berry and Justin Allgaier contending for wins while Gragson has been a bit back and Michael Annett has been riddled by injury, there’s a foundation to run well, and there’s no reason for Berry not to be able to do so. Sam Mayer, who has split the No. 8 at JR Motorsports this year, is having his share of tough luck to start out in the Xfinity Series, but has more than enough talent to bounce back.
Between the gained following and on-track success, Berry will be a fan favorite. For many, it’ll be hard not to pull for him.
“It’s difficult to put into words what this means,” Berry said. “I’m just a local short-track racer, so saying this is a dream come true seems like an understatement.”
What to Watch This Weekend
For those that follow the racing interests of Bubba Wallace, or for those that allow him to live rent-free in your head, this weekend will be of interest. That’s because Wallace will climb behind the wheel of the Hatorri Racing Enterprises No. 61 entry at Michigan International Speedway. Obviously, track time will be a huge asset for Wallace, racing in the series for the first time since 2017. Michigan is also one of six tracks of which Wallace has a win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to his credit.
Penske vs. JR Motorsports
Could we see a JR Motorsports/Team Penske fight for the win? Trends from the last race at Michigan in 2019 say so. On that day, three JR Motorsports cars, led by Gragson, were in the top five with the best overall car that day, Paul Menard, being from Team Penske.
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