Josh Berry, filling in for Michael Annett for the third time this season, came from the back of the field at the start of Friday night’s Food City 300 for NASCAR Xfinity Series cars at Bristol Motor Speedway and looked set for a solid finish. A mechanical issue with the rear end of his No. 1 Pilot Flying J #ThankATrucker Chevrolet, however, required an extended repair period and the Tennessee native was relegated to a 35th -place finish, 91 laps down. The finish was good enough to ensure the No. 1 team will battle for the owner’s championship beginning next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the site of the opening race of the NXS Playoffs.
Annett, scheduled to drive on Friday night, re-aggravated a leg injury that had kept him out of four races earlier in the season prior to this evening, and was not able to start the event. Berry, who traveled to Bristol with the team, took Annett’s place behind the wheel on Friday night.
Stage One Finish: 37th
Annett was slated to start the scheduled 300-lap event from 15th position, but after the driver change was announced, Berry was forced to drop to the rear of the field for the initial start. At the end of the first lap, Berry was up to 34th, and by lap 4 he had cracked the top 30. The 30-year-old driver was 27th when the first caution flag of the race was displayed at lap 9. Berry told crew chief Mike Bumgarner that he had fired off on the free side, but his entry to the corners was still good. When the race went back under the green flag, Berry resumed his march toward the top 20, taking the Pilot Flying J #ThankATrucker Chevrolet there 11 laps later. He was 19th when the competition caution waved at lap 40. Under the caution flag, Berry told Bumgarner that his handling had tightened up through the center and off the corners as the run went on. Bumgarner responded by saying his entry at both ends of the track was as good as anyone else on the track. Several cars ahead of Berry pitted, which moved him up to 16th for the restart, and Berry was in good shape for the run to the finish of the 85-lap Stage One.
Berry was running 14th at lap 72 when white smoke began to billow out from under the No. 1 Camaro. After several laps of trying to localize the problem, NASCAR put out the black flag, which sent Berry to pit road under green-flag conditions. In the process of determining what the problem was, Berry lost several laps and fell to 37th position at the end of Stage One.
Stage Two Finish: 37th
Repairs continued for more than 85 laps, and Berry was finally able to rejoin the field just after the green-and-white checked flag waved over Stage Two at lap 170. Over the remainder of the race, Berry clicked off lap after lap and rose two positions in the final rundown to end the race in 35th position, completing 215 of the 306 laps.
Despite the mechanical issue, Berry’s finish clinched a spot in the owner’s championship for the No. 1 Pilot Flying J #ThankATrucker team. After finishing 10th in regular-season owner points, 40 points over the cut line, the team will begin the playoffs 12th in the 12-car field after the reseeding, 43 points behind the lead. Annett’s injury also denied the Iowa driver a chance to compete in the driver’s championship, as he finished one spot below the cut line.
AJ Allmendinger won the race in a wild finish over Austin Cindric, clinching the regular-season point championship and the 15-point playoff bonus. Cindric was second, with Riley Herbst, JRM teammate Justin Allgaier and Brandon Jones the rest of the top five. Justin Haley led the second five, with Harrison Burton, Myatt Snider, JRM’s Sam Mayer and Daniel Hemric the remainder of the top 10.
“I hate that Michael was unable to start this race. I know that he and the No. 1 team have been really fast here the last couple of times we’ve run here. I started off a little loose, but Bummy (crew chief Mike Bumgarner) had a plan to fix it on the pit stop. Before we were able to get that done, something let go in the rear end and we had to come to pit road. After the team got it fixed, we went back out and were able to come home in 35th. I’m glad the No. 1 team is in the owner playoffs with the other three JR Motorsports cars. It’s always fun to drive here at Bristol.” - Josh Berry