After enduring several years of bad luck in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, it seemed that 2018 would finally be the year that Late Model veteran Josh Berry would take home a grandfather clock. After starting the race in the fourth position, Berry established himself as one of the best drivers on track and was only a few laps away from wrapping up the victory before a caution bunched the field up with six laps left.
On the first of three green-white-checkered attempts, Berry found himself on the outside of Late Model Peyton Sellers after losing the lead on the previous restart but got a strong run heading into the first turn with assistance from Layne Riggs. However, Berry was unable to clear Sellers and made contact with him, which sent his #88 All Things Automotive Late Model around in front of the field, ending his hopes of a ValleyStar Credit Union 300 victory.
Berry was not pleased with the way Sellers raced him on the restart and made contact with him several times during the ensuing caution periods before settling for a 19th place finish. With another disappointing finish at Martinsville on their resume, Berry and his JR Motorsports team now plan to focus on the inaugural Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway next month, where they hope to find much better luck.
“I don’t even really know what to say,” Berry said. “We had a really great car, and we’ve come here so many times and struggled, and we finally had the car to win. I felt like we got taken out, but we’re at Martinsville, and that means everybody runs into everybody. I’m obviously bummed out that we didn’t win, but I’m really proud of my guys and the effort we put into this week.”
During a press conference in the Martinsville media center on Thursday, Berry stated that one major factor contributing to their mediocre success at the historic short track was their lack of focus towards the race, as Berry has been competing for championships at local short tracks and in the CARS Response Energy Tour throughout his career. For the 2018 season, Berry elected not to compete in the CARS Response Energy Tour, which he believes allowed his team to build a comprehensive game plan for Martinsville.
JR Motorsports’ commitment to the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 was on full display during the weekend, as Berry posted consistently fast lap times in testing and practice, and was fourth fastest in qualifying, which earned him the pole for the second heat race. Berry would easily dominate his heat race and carried over his speed into the 200-lap Late Model feature, where he battled with Riggs, Philip Morris, and several others to lead a good portion of the event.
Berry would lose his commanding lead in controversial fashion on a late-race restart, as he battled Peyton Sellers on the front row while Matt Leicht, Jeff Oakley, and Mike Looney crashed behind the leaders. NASCAR timing & scoring showed that Sellers was slightly ahead of Berry on the last completed green flag lap, which forced Berry to give up the dominant bottom line and start on the outside of the front row for the restart that knocked him out of contention.
While Sellers would hold onto to the lead after his contact with Berry, his chances at a ValleyStar Credit Union 300 ended on the next restart when he and Bubba Pollard crashed after Riggs attempted to go three-wide on them in the first turn. Sellers would save his car and battle back to finish in fifth place but voiced his displeasure over the way he was raced and how NASCAR handled race procedures throughout the weekend.
“I’m pretty convinced that it’s not meant to be for me to have a clock,” Sellers said. “Billy Banks gave me the strongest motor here, but NASCAR didn’t give us the rules in our favor, so hopefully they’ll get it straightened out for next year. We brought a rocket ship to the track, and H.C. worked hard on the car. We just persevered, and were there at the end.”
While Sellers was upset with how the race concluded, Berry pointed the blame towards him, as he believed that Sellers’ aggressive driving is what motivated Riggs to dive on Sellers and Pollard going into Turn 1 on the next restart. Berry also used the last restart of the night as another example to back up his point, as Trevor Noles also attempted to go three-wide into the first turn, which ended up triggering a six-car accident.
Despite the late-race carnage, Berry was proud of the way he performed on Saturday and is looking forward to having another opportunity to compete for a grandfather clock in 2019. Berry also saw the exposure from the Motor Racing Network and FansChoice.TV as another positive, and hopes that his strong showing in front of a national audience will help propel his career to a higher level.
“If anyone wants a damn good driver to race for them on Saturdays and Sundays, I’m right here,” Berry said. “I see drivers like Daniel Hemric and Ryan Preece get opportunities, and there are plenty of great drivers here, but Peyton Sellers is not one of them. Me, Bubba Pollard, CE Falk, and several others deserve great opportunities. We didn’t win, but we had a lot of fun.”
Although he failed to win the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, Sellers left Martinsville with his third Virginia Late Model Triple Crown after obtaining the highest average finish amongst all eligible participants. Sellers understood Berry’s frustration but did not take full responsibility for the contact between the two, as he believes that Berry will see that he was at fault as soon as he collects his emotions.
“Berry will go home, watch the film, and regret everything he said,” Sellers said. “He’s a good driver, and we raced each other clean. I guess his spotter told him he was clear but wasn’t anywhere close to it. I think the fans will see that side of it as well.”
Late Model veteran CE Falk III came home with the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 victory over rookie Corey Heim after NASCAR officials examined video and scoring evidence to determine who had the lead when the last caution came out. Brandon Pierce came home in the third position after winning the third heat race of the evening, while Trevor Ward brought his #97 Late Model home in fourth.
Note: RACE22.com staff writer Andy Marquis contributed to this story.
📸: Brad Newman Photography