NASCAR Cup Series
What We Learned at Auto Club Speedway
Feb 28, 2022
Historically, when Josh Berry feels confident enough to be selectively aggressive, that has spelled bad news for the competition.
Of course, that was in a Late Model Stock Car over the past decade and the NASCAR Xfinity Series is a completely different situation. With that said, Berry has already scored two wins at the second highest level and that was before entirely feeling like he belonged.
It was one thing for Berry to win at Martinsville last April where he is a former winner of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, but it was another win on an intermediate track last September at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Did that come as a surprise?
"A little bit," Berry said. "I still feel like I have a lot to learn in that area. It's a different kind of racing from what I'm used to. I still need to have some conversations with my team about how to approach different things. There are definitely some areas that I need to clean up."
There were two specific incidents on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway that left drivers frustrated with the short track ace turned second-year Xfinity Series contender.
The first came early in the race when Berry appeared to force JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier into the wall. A few laps later, Berry was pushing Austin Hill on a restart but sent the Daytona winner into the wall near the start-finish line.
Berry agreed that it’s about finding balance between being cerebral and aggressive.
"With Austin, that was flat out a mistake," Berry said. "He got out of line and I gave him a push. I don't see anything coming out of that, but it did tear up his car and I hated that."
The two had a brief conversation on pit road after the race, where Berry apologized, and they shook hands.
"The incident with Justin is more of a difference of opinion of why that went down," Berry said. "We worked through it and we're going to be fine moving forward."
Berry had made only five starts in the Xfinity Series prior to last season but showed a natural affinity for the division. He made 22 starts last year across the JR Motorsports No. 8, JR Motorsports No. 1 and Jordan Anderson Racing No. 31.
He won twice and recorded 12 top-10s -- impressive considering that many of the starts came at tracks he had never seen before. The COVID-19 protocols meant Berry frequently took the green flag without a single lap of practice and qualifying too.
And yet, the early results were promising.
"I feel like I'm getting there," Berry said. "I do feel like there is room for improvement but it's nice to start going to certain places for a second or third time. It's nice that we have a little bit of practice now and can get out of the car and talk about it with our teammates and make a few small adjustments.
"It's still a learning curve. It is going well and I feel good about everything. I'm excited to go to some road courses, and I don't have a lot of experience with them, but that's been a big focus of mine over the off-season and I'm excited to see how that goes as well."
Even though Hill or Allgaier might have some lingering frustrations entering this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, other championship contenders have noticed the body of work Berry is starting to put together and are impressed.
AJ Allmendinger called him super quick.
"He picks up these race tracks really fast," Allmendinger said. "You might call him aggressive, but everyone in the Xfinity Series is super aggressive. He’s definitely one of them, but so are the rest of us. What he’s been able to do, picking up these cars and tracks -- especially the intermediates is what really impresses me.
"He was fast at Michigan last year, won Las Vegas, so it doesn’t surprise me how quick he picks up these tracks because he has a resume. He’s the guy you’ve had to beat in Late Models the past several years, and you put that together with JR Motorsports, and I feel like he’s a guy that we’re going to have to beat for the championship."
In a span of two years, Berry has gone from perennial Late Model Stock champion to potential NASCAR Xfinity Series champion. A decade ago, he was winning track championships at Hickory and Motor Mile, then came the 2015 CARS Tour championship and then the 2020 NASCAR Weekly Series National Championship.
He was a guy, into his early 30s, that potentially missed his shot. But he earned one last year and has made the most of it.
"It’s really amazing, especially in the weeks before Daytona watching the cars get prepared," Berry said. "I've been pulling into JR Motorsports for various things over the years and to see my name on a hauler when I get to the shop, that was really special.
"I'm trying to balance enjoying this a little bit and not putting too much pressure on myself but at the same time, I'm working really hard at this because I want to be here a long time. It's been a lot of fun. I'm so excited to be doing this and we have the potential to be doing some really special things by the end of the year if we keep progressing."