With all the strange things that have accrued in 2020, one might not have pegged Josh Berry for a NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series National Champion hopeful. The 2014 track champion at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) found himself racing at the old stomping grounds on a regular basis in 2020 following his one-race suspension from the CARS Tour Late Model Stock Series in June.
Since the JR Motorsports No. 88 has rolled back into Hickory, he’s been red hot at “The Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars. Berry had already swept twin 40-lappers on May 16, and followed it up with a pair of wins on June 27. Then, he went four straight race weekends where he split twin bills with Ryan Millington in some great, old-fashioned racing. Millington has been there most of the season and will likely win the track title, but the race is on for the win each night.
“The racing has been great,” said Berry. “To be honest it has been super competitive. The racing has been tough because we know what is on the line with a national championship.”
Entering last weekend, Berry had nine Hickory wins, seven of which count towards the National points, and he was poised to have a big weekend. Berry also had nine fast time awards heading into the weekend. On August 29, Berry set fast time and won both 40-lap races at Hickory.
“It was good to finally get a weekend sweep,” added Berry. “We have been a tick better at times and then Millington has been a tick better. We are just so close right now, it’s hard to have an advantage. You sit there and wonder if you don’t go so hard in race one to save for race two. You are just constantly thinking how to win the next race or have that advantage.
Instead of resting on Sunday after his Hickory sweep, Berry went to the other side of the state to run at Southern National Motorsports Park. The result was the same, a weekend sweep to finish with four full-field wins towards the NASCAR points.
“We took our backup car to Southern National and got the job done there,” explained Berry. “Southern National is not one of my best tracks, but we were good and we were able to get the wins. All we can do is win races and hope we get enough points.”
Berry admits that, after being accustomed to years battling a regular field of drivers, the concept of racing for the National Championship against competition you can’t see is a challenging one to wrap his head around.
Entering last weekend’s racing, Berry was second in the points to Millington, trailing by 16 markers. While he’s able to race directly against Millington at Hickory, others in the national title hunt include Virginia’s Peyton Sellers and New Hampshire’s Brian Robie.
“One advantage we have regarding the national title is that we are racing Millington each week at Hickory. Outside of that, I am not sure who we are racing, or who has more races left. It’s a strange deal just to not know with everything that is going on. I have to commend a guy like Lee (Pulliam) who has won four of these titles.”
Berry’s sweep of the weekend pushed his win total to 11 for 2020 at Hickory. Those wins move him into third-place all-time at the track with 37 wins, behind only Max Prestwood with 82 and Dennis Setzer with 43.
“When I first started going to Hickory to race I never would have dreamed that I would be up there with the likes of those names,” added Berry. “I know I have more years to race and getting to second is an obtainable goal, but Prestwood might be out of reach.”
The season win total also broke his personal best win total of 10 in a single year at Hickory, that came in his championship season of 2014 when he won 10 races and 10 poles.
-Story by: Elgin Traylor, Speed51 Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo