Josh Berry had never seen Michigan International Speedway before Saturday morning, but the 30-year-old Tennessee native raced as if he’d been doing so for many years, coming just a couple of laps short of earning victory in the New Holland 250 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines on the 2-mile oval in the Irish Hills. Berry drove the No. 1 Pilot Flying J/Trucking Moves America Forward Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish, despite having to come from the back of the field on two separate occasions. Berry was tabbed to drive the No. 1 Chevrolet earlier this week for full-time driver Michael Annett as he continues his recovery from recent leg surgery. Annett, who has received a waiver for post-season competition, is 13th in series points, just 41 below the cut line for playoff inclusion with four races remaining in the regular season.
Stage One Finish: 9th
Berry lined up 17th for the initial start, but was forced to the rear of the field by virtue of the change in drivers. Crew chief Mike Bumgarner told Berry before the start to be patient and be there at the end, acknowledging that Berry had never seen the big 2-mile oval in person prior to that morning. Taking the green at the rear of the 40-car field, Berry improved seven positions on the first lap while sorting out the feel of his Pilot Flying J/Trucking Moves America Forward Chevrolet. He crested the top 20 on lap 11 and was 19th when the competition caution waved at lap 15. Berry told Bumgarner that his Camaro was a little free over the initial run. Four cars pitted during the stoppage, which boosted Berry to 15th for the restart. When the green flag replaced the yellow, Berry jumped to 12th and needed one lap to break into the top 10 for the first time. He would stay there for the remainder of the 30-lap Stage One, eventually crossing the start-finish line in ninth to earn two valuable stage points. Under the caution, Berry told Bumgarner that he wanted to be a little tighter for Stage Two, and on pit road he took four air-pressure-adjusted tires and fuel. On the stop, however, the No. 1 Pilot Flying J/Trucking Moves America Forward pit crew was called for going over the wall too soon, sending Berry to the tail of the field a second time. He would line up for the restart in 36th position.
Stage Two Finish: 8th
As he did on the initial start, Berry wasted little time heading for the front, gaining a position as the field crossed the line for the restart. Off Turn 2, a seven-car pileup brought out the yellow flag and took out several of the top-running cars. Berry was able to miss the wreck and was scored 24th the next time around. After an extended cleanup, Berry took the green flag from 20th position on lap 46 and needed just four laps to get back into the top 10. As the laps wound down to the end of the Stage Two, Berry came on the radio to say his Pilot Flying J/Trucking Moves America Forward Chevrolet had good speed despite being a touch on the loose side. He would finish eighth in Stage Two at lap 60, picking up three more stage points to add to the day’s total. Under caution, Berry asked for more of the same adjustment from Stage One to tighten up his handling, taking four more tires and fuel with an adjustment to boot. The pit crew picked up one position for their driver on the stop and Berry would return to the track in seventh place.
After losing a position on the initial break of the final stage, Berry reset and passed three cars to crest the top five for the first time all day at lap 67. Two laps later, Berry swept into fourth place and took third at lap 73, chasing AJ Allmendinger and his JR Motorsports teammate, Justin Allgaier. On lap 87, Berry was still stalking the lead pair down the front straightaway on the low line, but moved up to the top at the entrance to Turn 1. As the trio made their way through Turn 2, a line of lapped cars was on the bottom groove, slightly balking the lead pair. Berry sent the Pilot Flying J/Trucking Moves America Forward Chevrolet to the high side and swept around both to take the lead. Berry held the top spot until lap 108, when he came down pit road under green for his final stop, which was for four tires and fuel. That gave the lead to Allgaier for two laps until lap 110 when he came down pit road for fuel only. Berry, who had maintained his position in the top five during that action, was on fresher tires and began taking huge chunks out of Allgaier’s lead. The caution flag waved again at lap 116 for Jeb Burton, who had run out of fuel and was stalled on the track. Allgaier pitted again for tires, handing the top spot back to Berry.
That set up a five-lap shootout for the victory. Berry held the lead for one lap until Allmendinger managed to get by, just in time for the caution flag to wave again for a two-car crash on the backstretch, sending the race into overtime. Once the cleanup was finished, the cars lined up for the green-white-checkered finish. Berry, starting on the inside, was in the thick of the lead battle heading to Turn 3 when he got loose, allowing both Allmendinger and Brandon Jones to get past. As that lap was completed, another accident occurred on the front straightaway to bring out the caution. On the ensuing restart, Ty Gibbs crashed in Turn 2 to reset the field again. On the final restart, Allmendinger got the jump and held the lead as Jones, JRM driver Noah Gragson and Berry jockeyed for position. In the end, Berry was unable to get the run he needed and finished fourth.
Allmendinger won the race, besting Jones, Gragson, Berry and Harrison Burton. Allgaier led the second five, with Riley Herbst, Brett Moffitt, Jade Buford and Bubba Wallace the rest of the top 10.
“I feel like I ran fourth with the best car here today. I wish it would have gone green. If that caution hadn’t come out when it did (at lap 116), we’d have won this race. This Pilot Flying J/Trucking Moves America Forward Chevrolet was so fast. We had to come from the back twice and we were able to get the lead there and just drive away. I just couldn’t restart on the bottom like I wanted to. When we had help behind us, like when Noah (JRM teammate Noah Gragson) pushed me, we were able to go a lot better. A lot of it is dependent on who is behind you. It just didn’t work out. I could never get the run. I hate that we came here and ran well and didn’t win the race. It’s been a big week. I just want to thank JR Motorsports, Pilot Flying J, Michael Annett and everyone on this No. 1 team for believing in me. I’d never been here. I saw this place for the first time this morning." - Josh Berry