Josh Berry is a great feel good story. The 30 year old grew up racing on short tracks around the southeast but lacked the funding that it took to drive in one of the bigger divisions of NASCAR. JR Motorsports though took notice and decided last year to allow him to run a limited Xfinity Series schedule for them in 2021.
It was last October that it was announced that Berry would drive in 12 races for JRM this year. It was the team taking a chance on a driver not bringing a lot of funding. That move paid off. Berry, looked stout at Daytona before being caught up in a crash. He’d not race on the road course race at DIS, but has been in the last five events to where he has three top 10’s including an emotional win on Sunday at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway.
Now, the debate is getting brought up, should Berry get a waiver and become playoff eligible?
By rule the answer is, no. He doesn’t get one. He didn’t compete in the Daytona road course race therefore he’s not playoff eligible by the standard definition. But, there’s been crazier things that have happened too. It seems like most race winners that aren’t eligible for a waiver get one anyways.
If you look at the rules it’s a no but if you look at past history, I think you have to grant him one so long as they can run the remaining races. I mean Matt Kenseth got a waiver last year and he missed the first four races. Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch got one when they missed races due to injury.
The problem now is, can JRM get Berry the funding that it takes to race the rest of the way. He’s running his 12 races earlier this season so that Sam Mayer can become age eligible later. See, Mayer doesn’t turn 18 until the end of June, so it was a no brainer to take a shot on Berry up until that point. Now that he’s won though, you can’t turn your back on Mayer and if you’re going to run Berry for the rest of the year, you can’t do so out of your own pocket. They need sponsorship to make it happen.
It’s a Catch 22 then. If you can get a waiver, it’s easier to sell sponsorship for a guaranteed playoff car/driver. If you don’t get a waiver, then it’s harder and you maybe turn away a feel good story and risk him not racing in the series with JRM past early summer.
“I don’t know what a win means to the world anymore in terms of creating opportunities and partners,” Earnhardt said in the winners post race zoom call on Sunday. “I’m optimistic.”
Most everyone else got a waiver, so I can see NASCAR granting an exemption so long as they can run the rest of the year.
The other factor is, does Berry get another shot with a different team? Does he even want one? JRM took a chance on him, so it would be hard to turn his back on the team that gave him this opportunity. But, he’s also 30 now and knows that his window of staying NASCAR driver is short lived so he may need to take whatever opportunity for whatever team possible.
“I’m 30. I can’t wait around for much if opportunities do present themselves,” Berry said after his win. “We’re just going to celebrate this and see what happens. I would sure hope this would open up some opportunities but you never know in these times.”
Earnhardt said he doesn’t want to lose Berry either but knows it’s going to take sponsorship to give him more opportunities. That’s all he worries about right now. He doesn’t care about a waiver or a championship or anything else in particular to Berry, he just wants him to race full time with JRM.
“We were able to put together a half a year for Josh (Berry) and this gives us an opportunity to piece together more people to maybe get a full-time deal going,” Earnhardt said. “We just have to hope and be optimistic in that becoming a reality.
“That’s all I worry about. The opportunity to compete for a championship or anything like that is not even in the back of my mind. I just want him at the race track and running.”
Earnhardt said that they stepped out of their comfort zone to get Berry running with them in the races that he is in 2021 and all the sacrifice the company did to make this happen made the win at Martinsville all the more sweeter.
“We sacrificed as a company to do this with Josh this year,” Earnhardt said. “This moment today by far made that sacrifice well worth it without question. I will never regret the burden financially that we might have created for ourselves and we’ll work our way through it.”