Bubba Pollard rarely tips his hand following any practice session before a race, often suggesting that he is not entirely happy with the car, regardless of whether it’s true or not.
Maybe a driver of his caliber is simply a perfectionist or perhaps it’s a smokescreen.
So, it came to no surprise when Pollard fielded a Short Track Scene question about his test session a week ahead of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway with the following response.
“We need to be faster,” Pollard said with a smile.
But he couldn’t help himself this time. Pollard laughed and said the car was actually good, capping off a successful test for both himself and teammate Josh Berry for JR Motorsports.
“This was the best test we ever had here,” Berry said.
Berry posted the fifth quickest time in the session and Pollard was 26th — but both were working on a variety of long-run set-ups and were very pleased with the data they acquired.
All told, Berry and Pollard will enter next weekend as the favorites, even if that’s a position neither of them have taken stock in over their respective careers.
Berry has long been a favorite each time he arrives at the famed Virginia half-mile, especially during his tenure driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt-Miller and L.W. Miller. This is the fist time the team has arrived with a true 1-2 punch with the addition of Pollard — the Super Late Model star that made his Late Model Stock debut at Martinsville, nearly upsetting field by winning for Jamie Yelton’s Fat Head Racing.
Now Berry, a champion several times over, can compare notes with one of the best to race a Late Model in recent history. It has made both the No. 88 and 98 better as a result.
“Working with him, sharing data has been really interesting,” Berry said. “He’s very, I mean obviously, he’s very good and we know that he’s very good but he’s also smart with the car.
“And honestly, he takes a little bit of a different approach than what we’re used to. There is still a lot that he’s trying to adjust to with these kinds of cars but he goes about learning them in a different way than I would have expected and that’s not always a bad thing for me to experience.”
Berry had the best car at Martinsville last year, but the fastest car rarely wins the most chaotic event in Late Model racing. In this case, he was taken out when Peyton Sellers dived under him on a late restart, causing a spin that eliminated him from contention.
As a result of his 2018 speed, Berry said he is both nervous and excited for next weekend.
“We took a really huge step forward here last year and today we just kind of tweaked on that,” Berry said. “We didn’t really worry about the flat-out speed. We tried to work on longer runs, and the balance over the course of the night.”
Their team owner, Earnhardt, shares that nervous anticipation.
“I kind of am (excited) after last year,” Earnhardt said. “That was a hard one to swallow. I never get my hopes up. We might show up and not be good. I don’t know that we will have the speed we did last year. That race is so competitive that anyone could show up and really hit on it.
“It’s been a rough year for Josh. We broke the fly wheel. We wrecked at Motor Mile. We got wrecked by Bobby that took him out of the (CARS Tour) points lead. I hope he can get it done this year. That’s a big deal to all of us. It’s Martinsville and a grandfather clock.”
Pollard expects to be in a position to deliver after the test.
“We got a good feel for things last year: the race, track and car and, and you know, making adjustments throughout the day,” Pollard said. “Whether it be right or wrong, we took what we learned and I gained something from it.
“That’s the biggest thing today. We tried a lot of different things but the car just drives good. And I hope it drives this good for 150 or 200 laps next week. I’m excited about it.”
And so is his teammate.
“By the end of it, I think we’re going to have two really good cars and I think we’re both going to be up front,” Berry said. “And you know, hopefully we can bring it home and have to great finishes next week.”