MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Last fall at Martinsville Speedway, Josh Berry appeared to finally have the keys necessary to unlock victory lane in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.
Then came a skirmish with longtime rival Peyton Sellers, and Berry went from seemingly on top of the world to pinned underneath a pile of scrap metal – so to speak – in a matter of moments.
Berry, who led the most laps in the 2018 edition of the Martinsville late model stock car spectacular, was leading on a late restart just ahead of Sellers when a multi-car crash broke out just beyond the start/finish line.
NASCAR officials placed Sellers in front, by virtue of his positioning at the last timing line crossed, and Berry was forced to the outside for the ensuing green flag. His No. 88 inched ahead, but by the time the pair reached turn one, Sellers was down low, there was contact, and Berry was around and out of it.
Berry ultimately finished 19th following another late-race incident and triple-overtime finish, but it was the latest in a growing series of missed opportunities for the veteran at the half-mile paper clip.
Back for more in the JR Motorsports-prepared No. 88 Chevrolet, Berry is hopeful of ticking what he views as the lone empty box left on his short-track resume.
“It would be huge to win at Martinsville,” Berry said during a media session last week at Martinsville, following a Thursday test session. “I feel like I say this every year, but I feel like this is the last race I really need to check off. With where we race and how we race in late model stocks, we’ve never been able to win there. It’s a big deal, and I think it’s awesome that we have two great shots at the win (as a team).
“Last year was tough; it was one that definitely got away from us. We want one back this time.”
Berry sits second in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour standings, nine back of defending champion and current points leader Bobby McCarty, going into the non-sanctioned Martinsville crown jewel.
By all accounts, he’s had a successful season already. A Martinsville win would be the icing on the cake.
“We’ve had a pretty good year,” Berry said. “I base a lot off performance, and we’ve been in contention in nearly every race we’ve been to. That’s all you can ask for. We’ve been right up front in nearly every race we’ve been to, but we didn’t get as many wins as we might have had. That’s part of racing. Overall, I’m pleased with how we’ve run and how we’ve continued to get better throughout the year. We started out great and just continued to get better. For these last few races of the year, I feel like we’re in a really good spot.
“Martinsville has been pretty tough on us over the years,” Berry continued. “Last year, we had an incredible car, and that gave us a lot of confidence heading back this year. I feel like we’re going to be able to pick up where we left off. We had a really good test. Over the years that I’ve been at JR Motorsports, that’s definitely the best Martinsville test we’ve had. The car was really good, had a lot of speed in it. Conditions are going to be a little different this weekend, but we feel like we’re right where we need to be.
“It was pretty warm on test day, but this weekend it’s probably going to cool off a little bit.”
In a sort of “good news, bad news” situation for Berry, some of his toughest competition may come right out of the JR Motorsports stable, in the form of his teammate for the weekend, Georgia’s Bubba Pollard.
Pollard will pilot the No. 98, a sister car to Berry’s No. 88, and Berry said Pollard will push him to perform.
“I think it helps,” Berry said of Pollard’s arrival. “Bubba is a very accomplished racer and we’ve been able to lean on each other a little bit. We have been able to make our program better, which was the main goal throughout all this, to give us two good shots at running up front and winning. I feel like Bubba and I have some differences in driving style, and we’ve been working on getting the cars where we need them. It’s been a positive experience for all of us. We’re excited to have him.”
But regardless of who he has to beat, Berry’s focus is singular. He wants to finish what he started a year ago and leave Martinsville with a Ridgeway grandfather clock on Saturday night.
“I have full confidence that we’re going to be in the thick of it like we have been all year,” Berry said. “Martinsville, a lot of times, comes down to circumstances outside of your control. Hopefully, we can do just a little bit better job than we did last year. We had almost a perfect night. If a couple of things had gone a little different for us, we’d have been in victory lane.
“For us, if we can bring as good a car as we did last year and just execute a little better right at the end, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in contention for the win.”
The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 goes green at 7 p.m. ET Saturday, with live coverage through FansChoice.tv and the Motor Racing Network.