Josh Berry stayed out of trouble and near the front during Saturday’s Sparks 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, earning a ninth-place finish in the caution-filled event that was called six laps short of the scheduled distance due to darkness. Berry avoided two big crashes in his No. 1 TMC Transportation Chevrolet on the way to the top-10 result, his 11th top-10 finish of the season, and saw the checkered flag for the first time in three career races on restrictor-plate tracks. Stage One Finish: 14th Starting from third on the grid, which was set earlier in the week by NASCAR’s mathematical formula, Berry took off with teammates Noah Gragson (who started fourth) and Justin Allgaier (first), holding steady on the bottom line around the big 2.66-mile oval. Berry made it work, leading three of the first eight laps while dicing among the top echelon. Over the first 13 laps on the 25-lap Stage One, Berry stayed in the top four until getting shuffled to the middle off Turn 2 and falling into the throngs of the front pack. Berry regrouped and went back to the bottom lane with Allgaier and Gragson for the remainder of Stage One, eventually finishing 14th. Under the stage-ending caution and subsequent red flag, Berry told crew chief Mike Bumgarner that his TMC Transportation Chevrolet was a little on the free side to run the bottom consistently. On pit road, Bumgarner gave his driver four fresh tires and fuel with an adjustment and sent his driver back out for Stage Two one position better than when he entered, in 13th. Stage Two Finish: 15th When the second stage got under way, Berry kept to the low groove and ran much of the first half of the segment in the top 15. At lap 46, the low line had made up significant ground on the top line of cars and Berry was scored ninth on that lap. As the pack shuffled again, Berry was pushed back to 15th by the time the green-and-white checkered flag waved to end Stage Two at lap 50. On the break, Berry told Bumgarner that his TMC Transportation Chevrolet had tightened up over the run, especially in traffic, and that he was playing it safe in the pack. Bumgarner called his driver to pit road for four more tires and fuel, adding a little more of the previous adjustment to help Berry’s rear security over the remaining laps. Berry exited pit road in 18th position for the final segment. Final Stage: As the green flag waved to start the final 63-lap stage, Berry used the bottom lane to immediately move forward in the order, gaining six positions on the first lap. At lap 57, Berry cracked the top 10 in ninth and was fourth just two laps later, running with his JR Motorsports teammates on the bottom line. The trio of team cars stayed on the bottom line until lap 67, when all three peeled off under green to come to pit road. Berry, like his teammates, took fuel only on the stop and went back out in a group. The strategy put the team cars of Berry, Allgaier and Gragson together in the same group, but a caution on lap 76 for a stalled car on pit lane evened the field again, and Berry stayed with his teammates in the pack. Once the race returned to green-flag status, Gragson took the lead with Berry right behind in second. It stayed that way until lap 89, when Gragson was caught up in a multi-car crash triggered on the high line. Berry, running in line behind his teammate, was able to miss the initial crash and its aftermath, but did sustain some damage to the right front fender on the TMC Transportation Camaro. The crash, which involved seven cars, brought out the second red flag of the day. When it was lifted, Berry came down pit road for four tires and fuel and some repairs to the damaged bodywork. He returned to the track in 24th position. When the green flag waved at lap 94, Berry began moving forward, marching from 14th to fifth in six laps. As the leaders began shuffling, Berry dropped to 11th a lap later before regaining ninth position just in time for the caution to wave again for another multi-car crash at lap 103. A lengthy cleanup period and gathering darkness forced NASCAR officials to wave the checkered flag at lap 107, ending the race six laps early with Berry in ninth position. With the finish, the No. 1 team remains seventh in the owner’s points, having already clinched a spot in the Round of 8 by virtue of its victory at Las Vegas one week ago. Brandon Brown was leading when the caution waved and was declared the winner when the race was stopped due to darkness. Brandon Jones was second, followed by Allgaier, Daniel Hemric and Jordan Anderson. Justin Haley led the second five with Jeb Burton, Austin Cindric, Berry and Joe Graf Jr. the remainder of the top 10.
“I hate that we didn’t get a chance to race to the end. It was a good day in this TMC Transportation Chevrolet, a good day in the points for the No. 1 team. We had a plan for the end and were on schedule to make it work when all the stuff happened at the end. I was glad to finally see the end of a restrictor-plate race. Bummy (crew chief Mike Bumgarner) had a good car for me and we had a good plan.” - Josh Berry