HAMPTON, Va. (June 13) — Newcomer Josh Berry and longtime veteran Danny Edwards Jr. both picked up wins as they split the NAPA Auto Parts/Whelen Twin 65s for the ComServe/Verizon Wireless Late Model Stock Cars, the featured events of Saturday evening’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series program at Langley Speedway.
The starting order for the first race was determined in late afternoon qualifying and Tyler Hughes nabbed the pole, circling the .395-mile oval at 89.137 mph. Danny Edwards Jr. was second-fastest, just 5-thousandths of a second off Hughes’ pace. Berry lined up third for his first Langley start, while Greg Edwards and Connor Hall completed the top five on the 20-car grid.
As the opening event got under way, Hughes powered out front and hauled the field into Turn 1. Berry drove underneath Edwards Jr. and eased into second at the end of the opening circuit. Edwards Jr. settled into third, followed by Hall and Greg Edwards.
The first caution flag flew on lap 3 when Brenden “Butterbean” Queen tried to swipe fifth from Greg Edwards and the two tangled at the entrance to Turn 1.
Queen’s car climbed up the side of Edwards’ machine and sent Edwards for a hard ride into the outside wall, chasing him to the sidelines. With tow vehicles blocking the track in the middle of Turns 1 and 2, the race was red-flagged.
Preparing for the ensuing restart, third-place Edwards Jr. gave up his spot in line and pulled to the outside of Hughes. He was joined on the top side by Matt Waltz, Mark Wertz, William Byron, Michael Hardin and Natalie Decker.
Back under green, Hughes and Edwards Jr. went door-to-door until they reached the end of the backstretch and Hughes surged ahead. Berry immediately rushed to fill the opening underneath Edwards Jr. Between laps 3 and 6, second place changed hands four times with Berry eventually clearing Edwards Jr. and bringing Waltz along with him, to third.
Berry quickly tracked down Hughes and went for the lead on lap 8, driving underneath Hughes into Turn 1 and completing the pass on the back straightaway. Two laps later, Waltz rooted Hughes aside in Turn 2 and grabbed second, while Edwards Jr. tagged along and took over third. The shuffle allowed Berry to pad his lead to five car-lengths.
As Berry added to his advantage, Edwards Jr. closed in on Waltz, looking for the runner-up position. He took one run at Waltz on lap 20, but came up empty.
Undeterred, he renewed the attack on the following circuit and worked underneath Waltz in Turn 1. The side-by-side battled lasted until lap 23 when Edwards Jr. gained the clear-cut edge off Turn 4.
At the head of the field, Berry was now up by more than half a straightaway. Meanwhile, Waltz continued to slip back in the field. He gave up third to Hughes on lap 26 and surrendered fourth to Wertz on lap 28.
The second yellow flag waved on lap 57 when Cameron Bowen spun in Turn 2. Setting the running order, Berry held the lead, followed by Edwards Jr., Hughes, Wertz and Waltz. Bunching for the restart, Hughes, Waltz, Hall, Dalton Sargeant, Queen and Decker opted for the outside lane.
The return to green was short-lived as Terry Carroll spun off Turn 4, prompting the last of the race’s three caution flags. Bruce Livingston bore the brunt of the incident and headed to the pits with a rumpled race car.
Gathering for what would turn out to be the final restart, Hughes, Wertz, Hall, Byron and Queen chose the outside lane.
As the race resumed, Hughes put up a fight, but gave way to Berry as they exited Turn 4. Edwards Jr. drove underneath Hughes in a bid to reclaim second place.
Edwards Jr. snagged the position on lap 61. In the meantime, Berry had opened a five-length advantage, which he would maintain all the way to the checkers.
At the finish, Berry was the winner by 0.852-second over Edwards Jr. Hughes was third, followed by Waltz, who slipped by Wertz for fourth on lap 64. Wertz rounded out the top five.
Hall headed the second five, in sixth, while Queen, Byron, Sargeant and Collin Cabre completed the top 10. Decker and Hardin were 11th and 12th, the final drivers on the lead lap.
Rolling the #88 JR Motorsports machine into Victory Lane, Berry seemed a bit surprised at his sudden success: “Yeah, we really weren’t sure what to expect. When we got here, we felt like we had a good car, but you never know until you race. I hate to see the 97 (Greg Edwards) get involved in a wreck. I was looking forward to racing him. He’s always strong here. We had a good car there and was just kinda cruising. Had that caution. Always gotta have that at the end to race for it. Man, that’s cool. First trip here. First time I seen the place was yesterday. This is a tough track, for sure, and there’s a lot of good cars here. I mean, this place has had a lot of cars all year long, so it’s awesome.”
During the race, it was learned, via Twitter posts, that Berry’s car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was keeping tabs on the proceedings on the FansChoice.tv website.
The lineup for the second of the Twins mirrored the finishing order of the first, placing Berry on the pole with Edwards Jr. alongside. Four drivers from the first race — Decker, Livingston, Mike Weddell and Justin Carroll — were unable to compete in the nightcap, reducing the field to 16.
As the second race got going, Edwards Jr. remained on Berry’s outside flank through Turns 1 and 2, then motored ahead as they sped down the backstretch for the first time. Berry settled back into second, followed by Waltz, Hughes and Wertz, who were nearly three-wide as they returned to the flagstand to complete lap 1.
At the front, Edwards Jr. held a slim edge over Berry, who was matching him stride for stride. Behind them, Hughes was working on Waltz for third. That battle came to an end on lap 5 when Hughes shouldered Waltz up the track in Turns 1 and 2. The scuffle opened up the inside lane for Wertz, who pulled underneath Hughes, while Waltz slipped to fifth.
The Hughes/Wertz tussle lasted until lap 25 when Wertz spun in Turn 2, bringing out the first caution flag and allowing the rest of the field to catch up to Edwards Jr. and Berry, who had driven away by more than half a straightaway.
Lining up for the restart, Hughes and Queen, the third- and fourth-place drivers, broke ranks and pulled to the outside lane. They were joined by Casey Wyatt, Waltz, who had slid back to eighth, and Cabre.
Back under green, Edwards Jr. cleared Hughes on the backstretch to retain the top spot. Deeper in the field, Waltz skittered up the track in Turns 1 and 2 and plummeted to the rear. A lap later, Berry moved past Hughes to regain second, leaving him in a nose-to-tail joust with Queen and Wyatt.
At lap 31, Edwards Jr. was clinging to a one-length margin over Berry. The front two had distanced themselves from the third-place scramble by over half a straightaway. Queen eventually got the better of Hughes and brought Wyatt along with him, to fourth.
Passing the halfway mark, Edwards Jr. began to extend his lead over Berry. Meanwhile, Wyatt hounded Queen for third. Wyatt grabbed the spot on lap 38, only to have Queen root him out of the way on lap 40. Wyatt wasn’t through, though, driving back underneath Queen on lap 41. Behind them, Greg Edwards, who started shotgun on the field in his backup car, bypassed Hughes to crack the top five.
The second, and final, caution flag appeared on lap 44 when Wyatt spun in Turn 4. The incident erased Edwards Jr.’s lead, which had grown to five car-lengths. Getting ready for the restart, Berry headed for the outside lane, followed by Hughes, Hall and Cabre.
Back under green, Edwards Jr. won the drag race into Turn 1, relegating Berry to second. Behind them, Queen and Hughes went door-to-door for third. Queen won that skirmish and left the lane open for Greg Edwards and Wertz, who moved up to fourth and fifth, dropping Hughes to sixth.
On lap 50, Edwards scooted past Queen to pick up the third position. Ahead, his brother had set sail, stretching his lead to nearly half a straightaway.
At the finish, Danny Edwards Jr. was the winner by 2.334 seconds — better than half a straightaway — over Berry. Greg Edwards was third, followed by Queen and Wertz.
Hughes, Hall, Sargeant, Cabre and Wyatt rounded out the top 10, while Terry Carroll, Hardin, Bowen, Macy Causey and Byron were also on the lead lap. Waltz was the only retiree and the only driver not to finish the entire distance.
Returning to Victory Lane for the first time since April 23, 2011, Danny Edwards Jr. was both elated and relieved: “Man, we had two solid runs tonight and I want to thank Rev. Potter for holding this water bottle for three years (actually, four) for me out here. It’s been a long time and I’ve really gotta thank all the guys on this team, and gals, that have been working so hard with me that didn’t give up on me and knew that we could still get it done. Junior Keen, I’m telling ya’ what, man, this guy builds a tremendous engine and I can’t thank him enough. Bobby Creech built us a new car this year and we did a lot of work, putting it all together. Man, this is a great night.”
The Late Models will be off next Saturday, June 20, as Langley plays host to the Visit Hampton VA 175 for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. They will return to action in another pair of 65-lappers on Saturday, June 27.
-Langley Speedway Press Release & Photo