The final Late Model race for defending NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion Josh Berry before he begins a part-time NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule resulted in a second-place finish after he was unable to chase down Chad McCumbee for the win in the Icebreaker at Florence Motor Speedway.
One of the most accomplished Late Model drivers of the 2010s, Berry had two opportunities to take the lead in the closing stages, but he credited McCumbee for obtaining two perfect restarts on the top line to hold him off for the win on Saturday afternoon
“I would have been really surprised if Chad had taken the bottom,” Berry said. “He did what he should have and drove a smart race, and he was able to get it done.”
Berry qualified his #8 iRacing Chevrolet in the fifth position, but immediately went into tire conservation mode at the drop of the green flag knowing that Florence’s abrasive surface would degrade his tires early if he was too aggressive.
After nearly falling outside the Top 10, Berry began methodically working his way to the front of the field at the halfway point and found himself on the back bumper of two-time CARS LMSC Tour champion Bobby McCarty with only a handful of laps remaining.
McCarty and Berry had come together on numerous occasions during the course of their respective careers, with the most notable incident taking place during the 2020 Race at Ace 125, in which Berry wrecked McCarty while leading after an earlier incident left the former several laps down.
Despite their history, Berry was more determined to bury the hatchet with McCarty and race him cleanly so that the two would each have a fair chance at chasing down McCumbee for the win.
“[Bobby] and I raced real hard,” Berry said. “I wanted to put things past us a little bit and race a little cleaner from now on. Maybe today was the start of that.”
Berry got the better of McCarty with less than ten laps remaining. McCarty ended up losing more spots on the ensuing late-race restarts, but was able to battle his way back to finish in the third position.
McCarty was thrilled to participate in a clean, yet aggressive battle for second with Berry following the past conflicts between the two drivers, which he attributed to their competitive nature and overall passion towards doing whatever they can to win races.
“Racing with Josh has had its ups and downs,” McCarty said. “We’re both very competitive and we both want to win. Sometimes we ended up getting together, but that’s just part of it when you have two guys going for it that run up at the front constantly. Things will get out of hand, but I’ve enjoyed it. We raced each other hard but respectful.”
McCarty said that his car was too tight to formally challenge McCumbee, but he applauded Nelson Motorsports for all of their hard work leading into the Icebreaker and intends to return to Florence more prepared when the CARS LMSC Tour visits the facility on Oct. 2.
“I definitely learned some things,” McCarty said. “I can’t chase the track as much as I’ve been doing, but that’s my fault because I wanted more out of the car in practice. I have to be more mindful of how the track changes throughout the day the next time we come back.”
While Berry would have preferred to find a way around McCumbee for the victory, he expressed his gratitude towards everyone at JR Motorsports that has worked to provide race-winning Late Models for him over the past decade, and is eager to carry over his winning ways into the Xfinity Series.
“This was a lot of fun,” Berry said. “I’m real thankful to be doing this and I’m very excited for the next few months. We didn’t get the win, but it was another good day for us.”
Berry will make his first Xfinity Series start of the season this coming Saturday for the Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner 300 at Daytona International Speedway.