MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Josh Berry earned a win for short-track racers across America on Sunday afternoon by driving to his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in the Cook Out 250 at Martinsville Speedway.
Berry, the reigning NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division I national champion who was rewarded for that title with a partial season in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet, muscled past Ty Gibbs with 29 laps to go and fended off teammate Noah Gragson throughout the closing laps.
Masterfully working his way through lap traffic, Berry held Gragson at bay for the emotional triumph – his first in 13 Xfinity Series starts – by a scant .590 seconds at the checkered flag.
After also winning stage two, Berry dominated the box score, leading four times for a race-high 95 laps to take home the iconic Ridgeway Grandfather Clock trophy presented to all Martinsville winners.
“This is for all those guys (grassroots racers),” said Berry in victory lane. “There’s a ton of people out there like me that have won here and at all sorts of great short tracks around here (that never get the chance to race on a bigger stage). We can do it, though; we just need the opportunities. Today proved it. Yeah, it’s a short track, but it’s still damn hard to win here.
“I knew this would be a good opportunity to win, but Taylor (Moyer, crew chief) called a perfect race,” Berry added. “The car was good. We just kept tweaking on it. The tires were pretty worn out there at the end. I was struggling a little bit with wheel hop; I kept going back and forth on the brake lever trying to help it on one end. It all worked out at the end, though.”
It was Berry’s second win at Martinsville in his last two starts there, considering he won the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 late model stock car race in October of 2019 by leading all 200 laps of the feature.
While his path to victory wasn’t necessarily the same this time around, Berry did tip that certain lessons from his time in a late model at Martinsville paid dividends in the closing laps of Sunday’s Xfinity race.
“I’ve got a lot of knowledge here, and I think even with all the difference in [track] conditions, we were very confident in what we could do,” Berry told SPEED SPORT. “I believed in myself about what I thought the track would do and what we needed in our race car. … This was Taylor’s deal, though; he brought a fast race car. I just had to manage it and be smart.”
The last of 12 cautions waved on lap 205 when Alex Labbe spun on the frontstretch, setting up a 40-lap run to the finish with Gibbs and Berry lining up on the front row after the choose.
Gibbs defended the bottom lane to hold command when racing resumed on lap 211, but Berry was in hot pursuit and quickly delivered a shot to the back bumper of the No. 54 Toyota in an effort to get past.
Berry persisted, running a slightly lower line on entry to turns one and three, and it finally paid off with 29 to go entering the third turn when Berry was able to move Gibbs off the inside curbing.
That move allowed Berry to seize control of the top spot, and he never relinquished it after that.
Gragson slipped past Gibbs shortly after Berry’s move for the lead, and while he chased Berry valiantly down the home stretch, the Las Vegas, Nev., native could never get close enough to make anything happen.
The runner-up finish for Gragson did come with a solid consolation prize, however, as he took home the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus as the highest-finishing eligible driver among a quartet of contenders.
“I didn’t even know we got [the $100,000], to be honest,” Gragson admitted to reporters after the race. “I really wanted to win there, though. I was having to protect the bottom to keep the guys behind me from moving me out of the way, so I could open up my arc the way I needed to and make speed.
“What a day for Josh, though. He’s like a big brother to me and I’m a big fan of his. It’s humbling to be on the same race track as him.”
Daniel Hemric came through traffic late in the going for a third-place finish, followed by rookie Ty Gibbs, who earned his third top-five finish in as many Xfinity Series starts by crossing the line fourth.
Brandon Jones, a third Joe Gibbs Racing driver, was fifth ahead of defending series champion Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton, Justin Haley, Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett.
Sunday’s race was picked up from lap 93, after persistent rain showers forced the suspension of the event Friday night. It was the seventh race of the Xfinity Series season.
After a week off, Xfinity Series teams will get back to work at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway April 24.