No disrespect to Josh Berry, but I don’t think anyone expected him to be here, in this moment, fighting for a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship on Saturday afternoon at the Phoenix Raceway (6 p.m. ET, USA, MRN). A Round of 8 is attainable if you drive for JR Motorsports. But in a crowded field that includes AJ Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs, to be able to top at least one of them in the penultimate round of the playoffs would be tough for a driver in his first full-time year in the series.
See, Berry is an anomaly in today’s NASCAR. In this day-and-age, drivers getting chances to move through the ranks aren’t much removed from passing a drivers license test. It’s all about the youth, especially at this level.
So for Berry, to be 30 and getting a call to run some races for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series for the 2021 season was a bit of a shocker. For an organization as talented as JRM, they typically would just pluck the next young star away. Instead, for this 8 car, they chose Berry.
Berry, now 32, was doing enough on the short track scene to find his place in life. He’s a racer. Always has been. However, his right moment came twice.
Most drivers get that moment when they’re young to jump up into a Truck or Xfinity Series ride. Berry’s went the late model direction.
Back in 2008, he was going to school at Volunteer State Community College, racing legends cars at the Nashville Fairgrounds and working as a bank teller to fund his racing endeavors. It was online racing to which led Berry to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2 years later, Earnhardt signed Berry to race for his late model team.
While he made some moonlight ARCA, Xfinity and Truck Series starts between 2014 and 2020, it was nothing to lead him down this path. He figured his NASCAR days were just part-time appearances here and there.
Then 2021 happened. He was signed on to drive for 12 races. However, he did so well, they worked out a way to keep him longer.
Berry won in just his 6th start that season. He had 5 top 10’s in the first 9 races including 3 of the 5 in the top 2. 12 races turned to 22 which included another win in the playoff race at Las Vegas. That spiraled into a full season for 2022. Now, here he is with a shot at a championship on the line.
Berry’s 2nd straight playoff win in Las Vegas put him here. This time he was playoff eligible to use it to his benefit. Following an up and down regular season, Berry has went on a terror this playoffs with a top 8 in 4 of the 6 races including 7 of the last 9.
He finished 3rd in Phoenix back in March and has a strong capability to make the 2nd straight feel good Xfinity Series champion.
Last year Daniel Hemric took the title after scoring his 1st career NASCAR win in his 208th start. He won in a thrilling photo finish with Austin Cindric.
Can this year be Berry’s moment?
Another wrinkle to this is that he went to school with two-time NTT INDYCAR Series champion Josef Newgarden. They were classmates in middle school and now more than a decade later, two students from the same school in suburb of Nashville can be champions in racing.