Josh Berry entered Saturday’s 38th Annual Bobby Isaac Memorial 150 at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway with six Late Model wins at the historic track in 2014.
He left little doubt that his seventh would come Saturday.
Berry set fast time in qualifying and led all 150 laps to claim his first Bobby Isaac Memorial victory. The JR Motorsports driver was in command and held off Matt Piercy through a series of late restarts to claim win number-seven of the year.
“I’ve been driving this thing for five years for these guys and they’ve never really won one of these big races here,” Berry told Speed51.com. “They’ve won big races, but it’s been a long time. We’ve had such a great year. I think the guys get frustrated because I feel like we’ve lost some races we could’ve won, but to still have seven wins that’s still an awesome season and I don’t think we’re done yet.”
Berry, a native of Hendersonville, Tennessee, was challenged by a hard-charging Matt Piercy late in the 150-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car race. Piercy started fifth and fought his way to second in the late stages. He edged Berry to turn one on a restart with 15 laps remaining, but Berry reclaimed the advantage by turn three. On a final restart with three laps to go, Berry knew what Piercy had up his sleeve.
“(Piercy) kind of showed his hand a little early being up there like that, so I kind of knew at the end that I just had to pick up the pace earlier than him to get him jammed up a little bit,” said Berry. “He got a real good restart on the first one, but I was able to get it done on the second.”
Even though he wasn’t able to edge out Berry on the final restart, Piercy was still all smiles after the race with a second-place finish.
“We had probably the best car I’ve had all year, especially on the long runs,” said Piercy, of Conover, North Carolina. “We had that caution around halfway and I got by Travis (Swaim) and I rode there for a bit, hoping for a caution to maintain with the 88 (Berry). We got a caution with about 15 to go and I beat him into (turn) one and up off of (turn) two. I bumped him going into (turn) three and he got away. Then on the green-white-checkered I tried to execute the same thing I did the first time and I couldn’t quite make it happen.”
Berry, who recently made his debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports, has been one of the most successful Late Model racers at Hickory in recent years. Still, being able to maintain a lead for 150 laps on one set of tires at a place that is known to chew up rubber was a challenge Saturday night.
“It’s extremely hard,” added Berry. “The whole time I was backing down the pace and (the crew) was telling me Dillon Bassett’s lap times. We were trying to keep pace with him even though he was coming through the pack. I was thinking the whole time, ‘Am I pushing too hard?’ But then it worked out at the end because I just used my track position and never had to use my car up trying to pass people. A lot of times it doesn’t work out that way, but tonight it did.”
Fourteen-year-old Todd Gilliland and Dillon Bassett, a challenger for the North Carolina NWAAS State Championship in 2014, dueled to the checkered flag for the third position. The two swapped paint a few times in the closing laps, but in the end Gilliland got the best of Bassett to finish on the podium.
“On about lap 100 my crew chief said it’s time to go,” said Gilliland. “We started passing cars and at the very end, Dillon Bassett, I had to move him, but it’s all racing. Following Dillon for probably 50 laps really helped me. Just following his tire tracks and watching how he saves his tires really helped.”
Bassett, who had a poor qualifying run and started 23rd in the 26-car field, finished fourth. Payton Ryan, who started 25th after his qualifying time was disallowed due to being too low in post-qualifying tech inspection, charged forward to finish fifth.
– By Matt Kentfield, Speed51.com Executive Director – Twitter: @MattKentfield. Photo credit: Speed51.com