When Josh Berry could no longer chase a Late Model Stock touring championship over the summer, he took his pursuit of a national championship on tour instead.
Berry was suspended by CARS Tour on June 9 for an infamous on-track retaliatory incident against rival Bobby McCarty on June 6 in the Race at Ace 125 at Ace Speedway in Altamaha, North Carolina. That prevented him from participating in the next event at Hickory Motor Speedway on June 13.
Between the Race at Ace and the end of his suspension, Berry had raced numerous times at The Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars under Division I regulations and found himself in the championship mix with four months remaining.
With the coronavirus pandemic essentially cutting the NASCAR National Championship window in half, Berry determined that it simply made sense to forge ahead, with an opportunity to add the national championship to a resume that already includes the 2017 CARS Tour championship, the 2019 Martinsville 300 and numerous track championships at Hickory and Motor Mile.
“After the deal at Ace, there wasn’t going to be another CARS Tour race until August and we just started to race where we could race because this is what we do for a living,” Berry told Short Track Scene on Wednesday. “We started to race Hickory every week and took the mindset of racing as if we were going after the national championship until we were eligible to come back and then see where we were at.
“We felt like we were in a good enough position to go after it.”
Good enough is quite the understatement.
With one weekend remaining in the Advanced Auto Parts Weekly Series Division I season, Berry and the No. 88 JR Motorsports team has all but closed out, winning 21 times in 34 starts across appearances at Hickory, Southern National Motorsports Park, Dominion Raceway, Myrtle Beach Speedway and Langley Speedway.
No other national championship eligible driver has posted double digit wins and Berry carries a 38-point advantage over Peyton Sellers and his nine wins across Dominion, Langley, Southern National and Myrtle Beach into the final weekend.
“I’ve learned how difficult it would be to go after this championship on any given season,” Berry said. “The points are unorthodox. It took some learning, I guess you could say.”
Division I drivers are ranked by their best 18 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and three points for a win, with an additional two points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.
“The car counts are a huge part of it,” said Berry, “but what it comes down to, my father in law worked with Lee (Pulliam, four-time NASCAR champion) and he told me ‘You can’t score points from home’ and that became our motto.
“If we saw a NASCAR race that had enough cars, we were going to make a point to go there too. We got off to a good start, but we didn’t get going until September and rattled off a lot of big wins. That’s when Hickory’s season ended so we went wherever there was a big race, because that became our best option to win the championship.”
Berry isn’t sure what he will do next season, but it’s not out of the question that he will return to the CARS Tour, in pursuit of a second championship.
“We haven’t talked about next year, internally yet, but we’re probably going to be racing,” Berry said. “You have to wait and see through the off-season to see what happens. I had a lot of fun chasing NASCAR points this year, but the CARS Tour is a great place to race, but I’m just not sure what we’re going to do yet.”
In fact, Berry is also expected to make his first series appearance on Oct. 25 in the $30,000-to-win Old North State Nationals at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina — also the 2020 season finale. Greenville has a lot of similarities to the other marquee Late Model Stock race at Martinsville — a race he led all 200 laps at last October.
“As long as this weekend doesn’t go horribly, I have full intentions of being there,” Berry said. “Even if it’s not at Orange County like it was supposed to be, this is still a bucket list kind of race, and we’d like to win it…
“I feel like we’ll be in contention for it. Really, that race is going to be about survival, I feel like. You’re going to have to stay out of trouble. Keep the fenders on it. We should have a shot at it and that would be a nice way to close out the year.”