Berry Seeks ‘One That Got Away’ in Martinsville LM Classic

Ron Lemasters | 10/3/2019

All Things Automotive Bubba Pollard Josh Berry Late Model Martinsville News

Josh Berry seeks redemption while Bubba Pollard is looking to make a splash of his own Saturday night as the JRM Late Model squad heads to Martinsville Speedway.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 3, 2019) – A year ago, Josh Berry went from on top of the world to essentially buried under it during the closing laps of a wild ValleyStar Credit Union 300 for NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Models at Martinsville Speedway.

After leading a majority of the laps in last year’s event, it all came down to a handful of laps near the end. A late-race start over perennial challenger Peyton Sellers set in motion the events which resulted in another missed opportunity. Berry put the hammer down on his No. 88 All Things Automotive Chevrolet with Sellers in close contact. A multi-car accident erupted just after the start/finish line, and NASCAR officials placed Sellers in the lead according to the last timing loop on the .526-mile oval. On the ensuing restart, Berry had inched ahead of Sellers in the race to Turn 1 and the two made contact, which resulted in a spin for Berry.

Game over.

Berry finished 19th after another crash slowed the running and left him no chance to recover. That doesn’t mean that the incident has faded in Berry’s mind, however. During a media session last week, Berry said that talking to Sellers would not have accomplished anything, but perhaps it did light a fire that already burns bright for the 28-year-old Tennessee driver.

“It would be huge to win at Martinsville,” he said. “I feel like I say this every year, but I feel like this is the last race I really need to check off. With where we race and how we race in Late Model Stocks, we’ve never been able to win there. It’s a big deal, and I think it’s awesome that we have two great shots at the win.”

The second shot comes with veteran driver Bubba Pollard in JRM’s No. 98 Chevrolet for this race. Pollard, who was in the midst of the late-race battle last year, will again be among the contenders.

At last week’s test session for the event, Berry posted the fifth-fastest time among the cars on hand, which bodes well for him making the top 20 in qualifying and earning a guaranteed spot in the big-money feature.

For Berry, the 2019 season has been successful in its own right, with three CARS Tour victories and a bunch of strong performances. He’s second in CARS LMSC points heading to the season finale at South Boston (Va.) Speedway on Nov. 2, just nine points out of first. A Martinsville victory—and the grandfather clock that goes with it—would be a perfect capper. The track has not been kind to him, either. In seven previous starts, his best finish is 13th in 2015.

“We’ve had a pretty good year,” Berry said. “I base a lot off performance, and we’ve been in contention in nearly every race we’ve been to. That’s all you can ask for. We’ve been right up front in nearly every race we’ve been to, but we didn’t get as many wins as we might have had. That’s part of racing. Overall, I’m pleased with how we’ve run and how we’ve continued to get better throughout the year. We started out great and just continued to get better. For these last few races of the year, I feel like we’re in a really good spot.

“Martinsville has been pretty tough on us over the years,” he continued. “Last year, we had an incredible car, and that gave us a lot of confidence heading back this year. I feel like we’re going to be able to pick up where we left off. We had a really good test. Over the years that I’ve been at JR Motorsports, that’s definitely the best Martinsville test we’ve had. The car was really good, had a lot of speed in it. Conditions are going to be a little different this weekend, but we feel like we’re right where we need to be. It was pretty warm on test day, but this weekend it’s probably going to cool off a little bit.”

Adding some heat to this year’s edition of the classic race is the addition of Pollard as a teammate. The 32-year-old Senoia, Ga. driver was also eliminated in a late-race crash last year.

“I think it helps,” Berry said of Pollard’s arrival. “Bubba is a very accomplished racer and we’ve been able to lean on each other a little bit. We have been able to make our program better, which was the main goal throughout all this, to give us two good shots at running up front and winning. I feel like Bubba and I have some differences in driving style and we’ve been working on getting the cars where we need them. It’s been a positive experience for all of us. We’re excited to have him.”

Likewise, Pollard was happy to be part of the JRM team for one of the biggest races of the season.

“It’s a great opportunity for me and my team to be involved with such a great program with JR Motorsports and Josh and what they’ve put together in their Late Model program,” Pollard said. “I’m ready to get going. We have a good opportunity to run well and possibly win the race. I’m really going to be leaning on Josh and his guys throughout the course of the weekend, just keeping up with the race track and fine-tuning the race car.”

He’ll have Spartanburg, S.C.’s Harrison’s Workwear, a family-owned chain of retail stores and the largest Carhartt dealer in the Southeast, on the No. 98 Chevrolet for the weekend and like Berry, he’s looking to be there at the end with a chance at the checkered flag.

“We’re excited to have Harrison’s Workwear on the car this weekend,” Pollard said. “The owner is a longtime sponsor and car owner in late model racing. As long as you put yourself in position and you’re there, you can make some things happen. If we do get those cautions there at the end of the race, we’re going to need the speed, so we’ll see. Hopefully, we can get a good long run...that’s more what I’m accustomed to, the longer 100-200-lap races, and I can use my experience and apply it here. Some of those other guys run some of the shorter races, so we’re excited to go and get going.”

Some of those other guys include C.E. Falk, winner of last year’s event, Sellers and Lee Pulliam, who Pollard named as the drivers in the running for the $32,000 top prize.

“The cream always rises to the top, and when you have Sellers and Lee Pulliam, C.E. Falk and those guys...there’s a good 10-15 cars that are capable of winning that race, if not more,” Pollard said. “As long as we can get in the show and get to racing with those guys, I raced a lot with them last year, and seeing how those guys race was really important. I can carry that over to this year.”

Berry is also used to racing at extended distances, and he’s hoping to finish off what he started in last year’s event.

“I have full confidence that we’re going to be in the thick of it like we have been all year,” Berry said. “Martinsville, a lot of times, comes down to circumstances outside of your control. Hopefully, we can do just a little bit better job than we did last year. We had almost a perfect night. If a couple of things had gone a little different for us, we’d have been in Victory Lane.

“For us, if we can bring as good a car as we did last year and just execute a little better right at the end, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in contention for the win.”

Pole qualifying is set for 8 p.m. on Friday, with the top 20 advancing to the starting field for Saturday’s race. The remainder of the field for the 200-lap event will be filled through heat races and the main event is slated for an 8 p.m. start that evening.

The race will be available to watch on fanschoice.tv and flag-to-flag radio coverage can be heard on MRN.

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1Christopher Bell (P)31060
2Cole Custer (P)3095-11
3Tyler Reddick (P)3094-12
4Justin Allgaier (P)3059-47
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6Michael Annett (P)3047-59
7Noah Gragson # (P)3042-64
8Austin Cindric (P)3029-77