The whirlwind racing season for Josh Berry took a pause this week, thanks to the two-week break for the Tokyo Olympics.
In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Berry has logged a victory (at Martinsville), four top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 16 starts, as well as a top-10 finish at Texas in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. At Dover, he was second in the ARCA Menards East Series event, having never seen the Monster Mile in person prior to it, and followed it with a second-place run in the NXS race the following day. On Sunday, Berry made his NASCAR Cup Series debut for Spire Motorsports, finishing 30th.
The break gives the 30-year-old Tennessee driver the chance to return to his roots and do some Late Model racing for JR Motorsports. The last time he raced the Late Model was April 24, when he dominated the Old North State Nationals at Orange County (N.C.) Speedway and took home the $30,000 winner‘s paycheck.
Berry will have the No. 8 All Things Automotive/iRacing Chevrolet on the track this Saturday at Langley (Va.) Speedway for the 13th annual Hampton Heat, a 200-lap Late Model Stock Car event that ranks as one of the major mid-summer events in the discipline. He‘ll follow that up next weekend with a return to the CARS Tour at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway for the annual Throwback 276, a race he won in 2018.
It‘s something Berry has been wanting to do, he said.
“I‘m excited. I missed that group (his Late Model team) and I‘m looking forward to going and racing with them the next couple of weeks. The off-week for the NASCAR schedule came at a really good time, and these are a couple of good races for us to go and run.”
Berry isn‘t worried about being rusty behind the wheel of his Late Model, despite the fact that he‘s done most of his racing this year in NASCAR. Berry has four starts in Late Models this season, winning twice at Orange County and again at Florence (S.C.) Motor Speedway.
“For me, it‘s just getting back in the flow of practicing, working on the car throughout practice and maximizing what you have there,” he said. “It‘s just show up and race on the NASCAR side of things, for the most part. It will be different adjusting to that, and I‘m pretty hands-on in the Late Model cars. I‘m looking forward to getting back in the swing of things.”
Berry has never been able to run the Hampton Heat but has raced at Langley a handful of times. Last October, in the throes of winning the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national championship, Berry swept a pair of 50-lap features on the .395-mile oval to essentially salt away the title. The driver he beat in those two events, Peyton Sellers, was his chief rival for the NASCAR crown.
“It‘s been a pretty good place for me, but things have never lined up to run their big race, the Hampton Heat,” Berry said. “With everything going on, this is a good opportunity for us to go up there and do that.”
The key to driving at Langley is having the car turn well, Berry said.
“It‘s flat and pretty small, so you‘re constantly turning,” he said. “It‘s important that your car is good in that respect and you can roll the corners fast, because there really aren‘t any straightaways there. It‘s pretty fun place, and it races side-by-side pretty easily. It‘s a good show.”
At Hickory, Berry has won a ton of races, and there‘s no doubting he‘ll be one of the favorites at the Throwback 276.
“We‘ve raced there a lot, so I always feel like I have a good shot at it,” Berry said. “I‘m optimistic about that, but we have to keep working to make our car a little better there. That‘s a 138-lap race, and last year we raced twin 40-lappers almost every week. We‘re going to have to approach it a little different to make sure we have a car that will be good over the course of the race. It will be hot and slick. It‘s always a fun weekend.”
Conner Jones will be at Hickory as well, driving the No. 88 Jones Utilities Construction Chevrolet for JRM, and Berry is looking forward to having the time with the young driver.
“It will be a good opportunity for us to work together a little bit,” Berry said. “I‘ve known Conner over the last year or 18 months of racing, but I haven‘t been able to work with him a whole lot. Hopefully, I can help him learn and improve and we‘ll have two good runs next week.”
Jones, who will run the remainder of the CARS Tour schedule for JRM as well as the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in October and the Florence 400 in November, is currently 14th in points after seven races, just four points out of the top 12.
— JR Motorsports —