Track Specs: .526-mile oval / 200-lap feature
Berry’s start/finish: 1st/1st
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (Oct. 7, 2019) – A year after losing his best chance to win one of Martinsville’s iconic grandfather clocks in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, Josh Berry went into Saturday night’s race with one goal in mind: redemption.
In a late-race battle with Peyton Sellers near the end of last year’s event, Berry lost the lead on a restart when NASCAR officials placed Sellers in the top spot following a caution flag in Turn 1. On the ensuing restart, Berry and Sellers made contact into Turn 1, sending Berry spinning and back to 19th place. Another caution flag caught Berry up in its aftermath and he was done for the night right there.
This year, it was going to be different, Berry swore. He was right.
After 200 laps, the grandfather clock—and a check for $44,000 denoting the richest payday in the race’s history—belonged to Josh Berry. Starting from the pole in his No. 88 All Things Automotive Chevrolet after setting a track record in qualifying, Berry led every one of the 200 laps, took both 75-lap stages and was 15 lengths ahead of perennial challenger Lee Pulliam when the checkered flag waved in front of a crowd of more than 12,000 race fans.
“I learned a lot last year,” an emotional Berry said after the race. “I went home, watched that race (2018), I studied the restarts and what I could have done better. I really focused on that there at the end. We were able to work on the car a little bit, and it helped.
“A lot of times, these things come down to the restarts every year and we were fortunate enough to get clear and it stayed green. Plenty of times you have that caution there at the end, but I was able to stay clean. The two behind us were racing so we were able to build a gap. It’s unbelievable.”
Bubba Pollard, who drove JR Motorsports’ No. 98 Harrison’s Workwear/Sterling Chevrolet, started seventh and finished fifth to cement JRM’s dominance of the annual Late Model classic. Georgia native Pollard, one of the stronger competitors in Super Late Model competition in the region, joined the team for this event to give JR Motorsports a 1-2 punch in a gathering of all-star drivers and teams. The week prior, Pollard had been in Vermont to compete in another stock car classic, the annual Milk Bowl at Thunder Road SpeedBowl.
Berry, whose Friday-night qualifying lap of 19.927 seconds shattered the year-old Late Model track record of 20.100 set by Stacy Puryear, took the lead at the initial green flag, holding off second-starting Layne Riggs through the first lap before easing away to a lead that soon reached 15 car lengths. The first caution of the night waved at lap 12, and Berry regrouped for another restart. It went the same as the first, with Riggs pressuring into Turn 1 but Berry clearing him up off Turn 2 and easing away again. For the remainder of the 75-lap Stage One, Berry held sway in the top spot, his only concern not getting too far out front and overusing his tires. At lap 61, Berry caught the cars at the tail end of the lead lap and picked them off one at a time. With five laps to go before the stage flag, Berry was a comfortable 2.5 seconds ahead. Pollard had stayed in the top 10 over the first 75 laps, saving his stuff for the second stage and the 50-lap run to the finish with a ninth-place performance.
After pitting for fuel and a couple of chassis adjustments, Berry went back out for the restart with CARS Tour nemesis Bobby McCarty directly behind him in the third position. On the green, McCarty ducked low into Turn 1 and drew alongside Berry’s white Chevrolet, but Berry was able to fend off the effort and remain in the lead despite his tires not yet being up to temperature. From there, it was a replay of Stage One, with Berry easing away from second place and slowing down to manage the margin back to his competitors. During the run, Berry told crew chief Ryan Vasconcellos that he was a tick tighter than on the first run in preparation for the Stage Two pit stop.
Pollard, meanwhile, made a chassis adjustment that tightened his car up rather than loosening it on the first stop and paid the price. He fell from ninth at the start to 14th at one point, just trying to keep his machine in touch with the leaders.
As it turned out, the teams had plenty of time to strategize, as a wicked crash off Turn 2 on lap 132 brought out the red flag. Trevor Noles had gone way wide in Turn 1 and blended back into the pack near the exit of Turn 2. As cars scrambled to avoid him, Sammy Smith’s car was knocked sideways into the path of Taylor Gray’s machine, which launched off the left front corner of Smith’s TMC Transportation machine and flipped, bouncing twice before coming to a stop on its roof in the middle of the backstretch. Neither driver was injured, although it took more than 30 minutes to clear the track.
When racing resumed, there were 12 laps to go before the all-important second stop. Berry again paced the restart and was clear of second place by the exit of Turn 2. He was creeping away again when Ryan Wilson’s car spun in Turns 3 and 4 after suffering a mechanical problem to bring out the yellow. An ample amount of fluid was dumped on the track, and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series officials decided to take the lap-150 break at lap 146 to give the track crew time to properly clean the surface.
Berry took his four tires and fuel to the end on the resulting pit stop, adding track-bar and wedge adjustments to the mix for the final charge to the checkered. On Pollard’s second pit stop, crew chief Bryan Shaffer undid that adjustment and went big the other way, which set Pollard up for the final 50 laps with a chance to improve his position.
The final stage began on lap 148, with Berry flanked by McCarty and Peyton Sellers and Dustin Rumley behind in row two. The third row consisted of Lee Pulliam and Timothy Peters.
Firing off as he had before, Berry held the top spot through the restart as Sellers got past McCarty for second. By lap 153, Berry was 15 lengths ahead and pulling away, and the battle was for second through fourth. With 25 laps remaining Berry was a full 2 seconds ahead of Sellers, with Pulliam, Peters and McCarty filling out the top five.
The yellow waved again at lap 182, with Berry still leading and Pollard up to seventh. Peters had passed Sellers for second, with Pulliam fourth and McCarty fifth. Another yellow came out with 11 laps remaining for a single-car spin, setting up a six-lap dash for the checkered and the $32,000 winner’s share of the purse.
Berry still led, with Pollard still in seventh, when the green flag waved for the final laps. As he had all night long, Berry was the first car into Turn 1 with Peters alongside through Turn 2. By Turn 3 Berry had cleared the second-place car and was driving away. Five laps later he drove under the checkered flag for his first career Martinsville victory—and just his second lead-lap finish—in nine career starts on the legendary Virginia oval. Pulliam was second over Peters, with McCarty in fourth and Pollard a closing fifth at the flag. Sellers led the second five with Justin Carroll, Kyle Dudley, Rumley and Kres Vandyke rounding out the top 10.
Sweeping the pole ($5,000) and both stages ($2,000) added to the overall payout for the 28-year-old Tennessee native, as did leading all 200 laps at $25 per lap ($5,000), bringing the total to an event-record $44,000. “Unbelievable,” Berry said on hearing the rundown. “I don’t even know what to say. Hearing those numbers, I am speechless.”
Exercising the demons from last year’s race was a personal quest for Berry, who stated before the race that the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 was the last big race he had yet to win in his career. The format change (to two stages and a 50-lap shootout with no field inversions) was a big key, he said.
“Last year we had a really good car, and to be honest, that was the first time we had a car that was capable of leading and doing what we did,” Berry said. “We learned so much about ourselves, gained so much more confidence last year in how we went about it and what we needed to do to be better. It was just unbelievable. I know on paper, we led all the laps and everything. The format change aided that no doubt. The last few years there’s been inverts and different tire strategies and all that. Tonight was our night. We had a great car and a lot of green-flag runs so we were able to settle in. I’ve learned a lot the past few years and we applied it, studied last year’s race and tried to make ourselves better.”
With he and Pollard both logging top-five finishes, it was a banner day for JR Motorsports.
“It’s huge,” Berry said. “We’ve been coming here a long time. To put two cars in the top five like we did here tonight is just unbelievable. Dale Face-Timed me and he was tickled to death. I remember how exciting it was when he won at Martinsville, and he’s equally excited right now, I would say.”
Pollard was appreciative of the support he received from JRM as well.
“I’m excited for what we overcame throughout the day,” the 32-year-old Georgian said. “I was telling the guys, I got us behind that first run, not having a lot of experience running these things (Late Model Stocks). We’ve run two races in a Late Model Stock, and it’s been this race the last two years. I just put us behind that first run, tightened the car up when I should have loosened it up. We pretty much had to take a swing at it that last run and it showed. We were able to gain some momentum, come charging to the front and we had the speed for a top-three car.
“It was a good race. I thought it played out well, NASCAR did a good job with some things. There was a good group of guys in the top 10 or 12 that you were racing around and it made for a better race. I can’t say enough about these guys at JR Motorsports. They worked hard. Josh and Bryan do a great job, they have a great program over there and I’m just thankful to be able to run for JR Motorsports. I had fun and hopefully we can do it again in the future.”
Next up for JRM’s Late Models is the annual Fall Brawl at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway on Oct. 19, with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Sam Mayer taking his second turn behind the wheel this season.