Will what Josh Berry is doing sway owners to hiring more “racers” instead of pay drivers? – Daphne B., Nashville, Tenn.
I think I speak for everyone when I say: for goodness’ sake, I hope so.
We’ve known Josh Berry is a great racecar driver for a while. His late model results, including a national championship and winning at Martinsville Speedway, speak for themselves. Not to mention the impact he’s left and continues to leave on younger drivers that have and are coming up through the Chevrolet/JR Motorsports pipeline.
💭 "I was lost, I had no idea what I was doing. And he was always there for me […] he would help me and coach me." pic.twitter.com/3UoeTgVWDM
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) August 12, 2021
But his NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Martinsville earlier this season showed that Berry can do it on the bigger stage. Sure, it was a short track, one he has thousands of laps at. But a win is a win, and he went out and took it.
Then came this past weekend at Las Vegas Moto Speedway, filling in for Michael Annett (who was recovering from leg surgery), Berry won again. He had multiple tenths of a second on the field when it mattered most, did so with a crew chief and group he’s relatively unfamiliar with and made it look easy.
It’s almost as if the decision to put an accomplished driver in a quality car is just that: easy.
But we know it’s not. Money talks, and motorsports has become a “pay-to-play” venture in recent years. Few and far between are the owners like Justin Marks, who noted Ross Chastain brings zero funding with him to Trackhouse Racing Team in 2022. But he doesn’t care.
He wanted a racer, he got one. The rest will fall into place.
It’s a different situation with Sam Mayer‘s age being the reason for JR Motorsports’ move in the first place, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelly Earnhardt Miller opted to give Berry a shot in the No. 8 this season because he was more than deserving. But they also knew he’d do well. And he did, once he got his feet under him.
Unfortunately, I have a feeling this won’t become commonplace anytime soon. Owners are still looking for drivers who bring sponsors with them instead of the “good ol’ days” of owners finding sponsors for their drivers who are deserving.
However, Josh Berry is the dream realized. One day content with never running a national series race again in his career, the next a winner in Xfinity. The next, a full-time deal to run Xfinity in 2022 with multiple sponsors wanting to associate themselves with him.
He’s the exception to the rule, which is a damn shame, but it still is the feel-good story of 2021.
With nothing to lose, should Denny Hamlin approach Talladega only looking out for himself or helping his Toyota teammates? – Charlie P., Portland, Oregon
Knowing Denny Hamlin and how he’s a team player 99.9% of the time, he’ll likely do whatever he can in his power to help his four Toyota teammates gain points and and help the three that are in the playoffs advance to the Round of 8.
But he doesn’t have to, right? He could easily do what he does best: run up front, dominate superspeedway races, win for the second week in a row (barring a “Big One,” which I totally realize is the biggest “if” in NASCAR) and not worry about helping anybody else.
Because wouldn’t it kind of go against him if he were to help, say, Kyle Busch advance to the Round of 8, only to see Busch knock Hamlin out and the No. 11 not advance to the Championship 4?
Again, I recognize this is a huge game of “what if?” but it’s a fair question to raise. If anybody can be burned by weird circumstances working against him, it’s probably Hamlin. His countless trips to the Championship 4 or season finale with a shot at the title, only to see it unravel and not come together when it matters most, can be counted on almost an entire hand.
Selfishly, he should look out for himself and only himself. But realistically, and due to the guy who signs his paycheck, he’ll help his teammates out. It’s become a game of numbers in recent years at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. They draft together, pit together and everything in between.
The good news for Hamlin and the No. 11 team, though, is that they’re the only one of the 12 drivers left who have nothing to lose heading into Sunday’s (Oct. 3) YellaWood 500 at Talladega.
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