MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Put simply, there was no one in the same universe as Josh Berry Saturday night during the 25th annual ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway.
Berry, who qualified fastest with a new track record 24 hours earlier, started from the pole in the No. 88 All Things Automotive Chevrolet and never looked back. He led all 200 laps and swept all three stages of the main event for his first victory in Martinsville’s late model stock car special in eight attempts.
Adding together the winner’s share of $32,000, the pole bonus of $5,000, the two stage bonuses of $1,000 apiece and $25 for each lap Berry led, his total payday came out to a whopping $44,000.
“That’s unbelievable,” Berry said as he reflected on his feat. “What a night. I’m speechless right now.”
From the outset, Berry simply appeared to be a cut above the rest of the field, able to manage his restarts to perfection and pull away from anyone who was pursuing him, no matter who it was.
Through 10 caution periods – including the two stage breaks at laps 75 and 147 – no one could even come close to making a move on the 28-year-old Henderson, Tenn., native.
It was those rock-solid restarts that Berry circled as one of the most important keys to his victory.
“We all learned a lot last year as a team,” noted Berry, who dominated the 2018 edition of the Martinsville event as well, but came up empty for his efforts. “I went home; I watched that race. I studied the restarts, I studied what I could have done better and just really focused on that at the end. We were able to work on the car a little bit (during the breaks), and I think it helped, but a lot of times these things come down to restarts at the end … and we were fortunate enough to get clear each time.
“Plenty of times here, you have that caution at the end, but we were able to stay clean and when the two behind us got to racing, we just built a gap,” he added. “It was just unbelievable, what we did here.”
That caution that Berry alluded to did end up waving with 18 laps left, when Stacy Puryear’s engine expired in a plume of smoke on the backstretch, leading to another yellow on the ensuing restart with 12 to go for the spinning machine of Travis Swaim at the exit of the fourth corner.
All the while, Berry stayed consistent and pulled away each time.
Following a red flag with 10 to go, conserving precious green-flag time for the fans, Timothy Peters chose up to the outside of the front row for the final restart of the night with six revolutions remaining.
Lee Pulliam lined up directly behind Berry in third, with Peyton Sellers beside of Pulliam in fourth. Berry was just too strong, however, and gapped the field by 2.244 seconds en route to victory lane.
Pulliam got past Peters on lap 197, but by then, Berry was long gone – and Pulliam knew it.
“We were all racing for second tonight,” the four-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion and two-time Martinsville winner noted after his fifth runner-up finish in the event.
“I lined up there on that last restart behind Josh, and I’ve been in his position. A few times it’s worked out and other times I’ve gotten dumped leading,” Pulliam added. “I never had any respect for any of the guys that dumped me, so I wanted to race him clean. He was the best car and the best car won tonight.”
Despite the disappointing second-place run, Pulliam’s effort was good enough to clinch the Virginia Triple Crown Series championship by one finishing position over Peyton Sellers, who crossed sixth.
Peters ended up third after his late scrap with Pulliam, followed by Bobby McCarty and Bubba Pollard, who was racing as a teammate to Berry at JR Motorsports third weekend.
Sellers, Justin Carroll, Kyle Dudley, Dustin Rumley and Kres VanDyke closed the top 10.
After his media center interview, Berry was quizzed if he’d ever had a car as good as his ride Saturday night was. Berry just cracked a small smile before responding.
“Last year’s was,” he said. “This year, we just finally were able to close the deal.”
Josh Berry, Lee Pulliam, Timothy Peters, Bobby McCarty, Bubba Pollard, Peyton Sellers, Justin T. Carroll, Kyle Dudley, Dustin Rumley, Kres VanDyke, Colin Garrett, Jacob Heafner, Travis Swaim, Mike Darne, Brennan Poole, Justin Hicks, Zack Clifton, Jimmy Wallace, Grayson Cullather, Davin Scites, C.E. Falk III, Trey Crews, Matt Leicht, Stacy Puryear, Derrick Lancaster, Layne Riggs, Trevor Noles, Ryan Wilson, Jason York, Sammy Smith, Taylor Gray, Jonathan Findley, Dexter Canipe Jr., Eric Winslow, Tommy Lemons Jr., Chad McCumbee, Mike Looney, Craig Moore, Austin Thaxton, Tyler Matthews.