There was no denying Josh Berry Saturday night at Martinsville Speedway (VA) in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.
The Hendersonville, Tennessee native boasts an impressive resume in Late Model Stock Car competition, including the 2017 Myrtle Beach 400 and 17 wins in the CARS Tour to match his 2017 championship in that series, 10 more than anyone else in the history of the series.
Yet the discipline’s crown jewel had always eluded the JR Motorsports driver, with a best career finish of 13thin the event. Last year, Berry was in contention until an accident in the waning laps dashed his shot at the win.
There would be no such pitfall this year, as Berry led flag-to-flag after winning the pole with a new track record to claim the $32,000 winner’s payday, the signature grandfather clock bestowed upon Martinsville winners and a spot in history alongside the greats of Late Model Stock Car racing.
On restart after restart, Berry held off challenges throughout the race, the last coming from two-time Martinsville 300 winner Timothy Peters. With lap leader bonuses, segment wins and the pole bonus, Berry took home $44,000 in winnings for his effort.
“Unbelievable. I don’t even know what to say,” said Berry. “I’m speechless. Hearing those numbers, I’m speechless.”
While Berry has often struggled at the famed paperclip, last year was his first true shot at a win in the event. Lessons learned from that race have resonated for the past 12 months for Berry, and he capitalized on those lessons Saturday night.
“I learned a lot last year,” said Berry. “I went home, watched that race, studied the restarts, worked on what I could have done better. We were able to work on the car a little bit and that helped.
“Last year we had a really good car. That was probably the first time we had a car capable of leading and doing what we did. We learned so much about ourselves, gained so much confidence, learned what we needed to do better. Tonight was just unbelievable.”
The two behind Berry were Peters and Lee Pulliam, a pair of two-time Martinsville winners hoping to match Philip Morris’ record three wins in the event. Pulliam would take the runner-up spot from Peters, earning him the Virginia Triple Crown over Peyton Sellers, but he knew the night was Berry’s to lose.
“We were all racing for second,” Pulliam confessed. “I’ve been in the same position he’s been in a couple of times. The best car went to victory lane. Sometimes it’s frustrating when you lose a race and have a winning car, but that wasn’t the case tonight.”
Peters echoed Pulliam’s appraisal, pleased with a third-place run and a clean race car with little shot to contend with Berry.
“That’s a good old southern backside kicking,” said Peters. “Leading all the laps and sitting on the pole. Our car’s in one piece, we can bring it back and figure out what to do. All in all, running for second tonight and finished third.”
This year’s event introduced a new format, with the last competition caution coming at lap 150 rather than 175 or lap 190 as in past years. That, along with a lack of inversions for the top 10 runners throughout the race, assisted Berry’s dominance.
“The format change aided that without a doubt,” acknowledged Berry. “In the past few years, there’s been inverts and all of that. Tonight was our night.”
There were no complaints from the runner-up who might have benefitted from an invert or late-race caution.
“I think it’s awesome, no inversion,” said Pulliam. “I think that’s part of what leads to the chaos. You take Josh, you invert him to 10th, he has the race-winning race car. He gets held up, somebody jacks him up and moves him to 15th, he’s really upset, he’s driving with everything he’s got, he’s moving people out of the way. He spins somebody out because he’s frustrated. I’ve seen that happen before by many different drivers. I think it causes a lot of unnecessary wrecks.”
The win was a massive burden relieved, not just for Berry but for his JR Motorsports team, which has been competing at Martinsville Speedway for years. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was quick to reach out to Berry and join in the celebration.
“It’s huge. They’ve been coming here a long time. To put two cars in the top five is just unbelievable. Dale FaceTimed me, he’s tickled to death. I know how excited he was to win Martinsville [as a Cup driver], and I think he’s equally excited right now.
It also confirms Berry’s presence as one of the greats in Late Model Stock Car racing, alongside many of the drivers he had to beat Saturday night.
“I know how good these guys are. I’ve raced with Lee for a long time, and Timothy, too, Peyton [Sellers] and all these guys. You take the top five in this race and we should all be racing on Sundays. To come here and race with them, I expect them to be good and they are. We definitely had a great car. Luckily for me, the race played out to my benefit.”
Race fans who missed Saturday’s event can visit Trackside Now, presented by Performance Friction Brakes, to view updates from Saturday’s race.
Unofficial Results - ValleyStar Credit Union 300
Martinsville Speedway - Ridgeway, Virginia
|21||40||C.E. Falk III|
|33||5||Dexter Canipe, Jr.|
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo