MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 20, 2020) – All the points are tallied and the winner has been notified.
Josh Berry is your 2020 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series champion.
The title is the fifth for Berry with JR Motorsports, the first national Late Model championship for both driver and team and a resounding affirmation of the faith and respect that team owners Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt Miller and L.W. Miller have for the history and genesis of NASCAR.
Earlier today, the 29-year-old from Hendersonville, Tenn. received a video message from NASCAR Executive Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Steve O’Donnell confirming the fact that he had indeed won the championship.
At his side was Earnhardt Jr., who came up through the NASCAR Late Model ranks in this area on the way to a spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s going to be a huge accomplishment not only for me but for our whole team, winning something that’s across the whole country,” Berry said earlier. “I feel like I’ve been so busy the past few months that I haven’t had time to really process all of that. I guess in the next week or two I’ll be able to do that.”
As is usually the case, there are plenty of people to thank, Berry said.
“I really have to thank Mark Thomas from All Things Automotive and Steve Myers from iRacing for their support, John West Racing Engines has built great engines for us all year and all of our team members here at JR Motorsports. This is great for all of us, and we did it together.”
Berry came to the team in 2010 and has run the team’s Late Models since, with occasional star turns in one of the company’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Chevrolets. Berry met Earnhardt Jr. while competing on iRacing, and the partnership was sealed.
Berry talked about the passion his team owners have for the NASCAR Weekly Series.
“It boils down to them loving short-track racing and wanting to be part of that series, because that’s where they both started,” Berry said. “Dale used it as a stepping-stone through the ranks. They just like it. My place in this program...maybe 10 years ago we would never have seen the success coming that has allowed me to be here this long. It’s just been a good fit for all of us. We all enjoy what we’re doing and we’re just going to keep on going.”
The stat line for Berry in a season that might not have happened had it not been for an early dust-up in another racing series is impressive. In 39 starts through Sunday, Berry had 26 victories, 36 top-five and 38 top-10 finishes. His worst finish—28th—didn’t count against him in the NASCAR standings because it took place during a CARS Tour event.
Since the NASCAR series only counts a driver’s best 14 results, Berry essentially ran the table.
The title chase came about because of a racing incident at Ace Speedway in North Carolina, where Berry was punted from second place and into the outside wall in Turn 3. After fixing a broken shock mount, Berry returned to the track laps down and dispensed time-honored racer justice to the race leader...on the front straightaway. He was disqualified, putting him 28th at the finish, and subsequently slapped with a one-race suspension, which all but doomed his chances of another CARS Tour title.
Just like that, the drive for the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series title was on.
Over the remainder of the season, Berry chased races around North Carolina and Virginia, racking up victories and keeping an eye on the competition.
“We started mostly at Hickory, and that was primarily because we were waiting for a couple of tracks to open up completely,” Berry said of the aftermath of the COVID-19 virus. “We felt like when we could start traveling around to some different tracks that would be where we could separate ourselves. We had a good year up until about August, and that’s when we really started to hit our stride and put together a lot of big wins.”
For the past several seasons, Berry has raced a good schedule in the CARS Racing Tour and select local events, usually totaling less than 30 races. By the time the NASCAR season ended on Oct. 18, Berry had made 39 starts. It was an adjustment, he said.
“I felt like it was a huge commitment,” Berry said. “When we first started this...we’ve been racing a lot more than we have, sometimes twice a weekend. I knew that was going to be a huge commitment and overall, as a group, we were willing to do it.
“It’s just a grind; I have a lot of respect for these guys that have won it multiple times. It’s just the grind, the points are complicated and somewhat confusing. It took me a while to learn that and figure it out. Once we did, we were able to make a plan and obviously have a lot of success.”
Part of that plan was to go where his competition was. Peyton Sellers, a Virginia native who has been consistently in the mix on the national-series stage, emerged as Berry’s top competitor, and Berry went to his stomping grounds with a clear purpose.
“It (the NASCAR Weekly Series) counts your best 14 races,” Berry said. “When we were leading a month ago, it didn’t mean peanuts. We went wherever he (Sellers) was because if we went there and kept him from winning, he couldn’t gain points. It’s confusing. I have 21 (24 at final tally) wins, but only 14 of them count. It’s hard to explain to people how it works. It was important for us to go race him to keep him from scoring points.”
It worked. In those races, Berry outpointed Sellers every weekend, and expanded his lead to insurmountable levels with three wins in four races.
On Oct. 11, Berry traveled to Dominion Raceway in Virginia, where Sellers and others waited to try and derail his run. In the first race, tire trouble struck, and that resulted in a ninth-place finish in the first of two 60-lap features. That meant he would start ninth in the nightcap, and while upsetting on one hand, it was just what he needed.
“(That weekend) at Dominion, we had some trouble in the first race and were able to go for maximum bonus points in the second race and win that one,” Berry said. “I’m not going to say that was the clincher, but...that was a big one. A lot of them were big. Any of those races we won from the back, those were the difference-makers.
“It took me a little bit to figure out that those races with the passing points were huge, and a lot of my wins at Hickory, six or seven of them, aren’t even going to count. The wins from ninth on back are the ones that really separated us from the rest.”
Now that he is officially the champion, Berry still has at least one more race to run: a return to the CARS Tour for the season finale with Connor Mosack, who is battling for a top-four points finish in his first season.
As for what’s in store for the future, Berry is content to let the present take the front seat for now.
“It’s hard to imagine it getting a whole lot better than what I’m doing right now,” he said. “I enjoy short-track racing, and doing what I’m doing with this group. I can’t really imagine that. After last year, running as well as we did and winning Martinsville, I thought that was it. Here we are, winning a national title. You never know what opportunities could present themselves or what could change, but for now I enjoy what I’m doing, being a top short-track racer, and it’s a lot of fun.”