BROOKLYN, MICH. — This Saturday, Josh Berry heads to Michigan International Speedway where, last August, his prospects of contending for a NASCAR championship first started becoming a possibility.
Berry had a full-time ride lined up for 2022 after proving himself on technical ovals like Martinsville where he earned his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win in April 2021. He entered Michigan with little speedway-track experience and in his second start driving the No. 1 as a fill-in for Michael Annett.
“The cookie-cutter intermediates and two-mile tracks, which I hadn’t raced on yet, was where I felt like I needed to make the most improvement. So to go to Michigan, I mean, that was arguably one of my best races,” Berry said. “I kind of just got to go race and learn and I think it turned out to be good. We started in the back, got to the front, had a penalty, went to the back again and got back to the front by passing a ton of cars and racing really well.”
Berry led with five laps to go in regulation but lost the lead to A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger won in triple-overtime while Berry finished fourth.
Berry and the No. 1 team redeemed themselves at Las Vegas in September, as he earned his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series win and the No. 1 team’s only win of 2021.
Michigan and Las Vegas were two of Berry’s 22 starts in 2021, which came after a four-year absence from NASCAR and a preceding patchwork of eight starts from 2014-2017. During that time, an opportunity to race full-time in NASCAR, let alone contend for a championship, was unfathomable.
“It was hard. Stepping in there for a one-off with a different team every time, a different crew, I really never did establish myself and learn. After my second start in 2016, I just really thought that that was it,” Berry stated. “Really, after nothing materialized after that, I pretty much just thought I’d be a career full-time racer. I kind of came to terms with that so I can’t say that I was really too hung up on it. Like, I just kind of accepted that maybe that’s what I was gonna be.”
Now, Berry has accepted a new reality in his first full-time season: NASCAR championship contender.
Entering Michigan, Berry is fifth in playoff points with two wins (tied-fifth) and six stage wins – just one win behind teammates Noah Gragson and Justin Allgaier and tied with Allgaier for the second-most stage wins.
“It’s been great, right? I think it’s definitely exceeded my expectations at times. I think it helps right now that our cars are really strong and that makes our jobs as drivers a lot easier. So it’s been it’s kind of just crazy,” Berry said. “I think it’s just funny that just seems like every week one of us is up front battling for winning stages winning the race. It’s just been fun. I think we have four great drivers for great teams. We’re all able to race and help each other and push each other to be better. It’s a healthy dynamic there at the shop.”
Berry has Annett’s old team, who Berry has won with twice this season and at Las Vegas last season. Even after scoring three wins together, they still want redemption for their close loss at Michigan last season.
“It was super painful to watch [the Michigan restart] during my prep this week. I think we all have a little bit of a chip on our shoulders. This is one that we definitely want to want to make up for. I felt like I learned a lot and I think if I was in the same situation, I don’t think I would have lost the race,” Berry stated. “It’s tough when you’ve run so well because it’s a lot easier to go to a race with no expectations, than one where you have high expectations of yourself, but my guys are doing a really good job. I think we should be right in the thick of things and have a good shot at it.”
Away from contending for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, Berry won a CARS Tour race at Greenville-Pickens, just one night after racing the NXS at Martinsville.
“It was fun to go do that and race with that same group, really, we’ve had together on our late model program for close to 10 years; the majority have been there a long time,” Berry said. “Even doing what I’m doing now, I still miss those guys and miss the people at the track after spending so many years with them. So it’s nice to get back every now and get to experience that. Thankfully, our late model program has been super, super successful over the years.”
When team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. races the CARS Tour, Aug. 31 at North Wilkesboro, Berry will be there but not to race.
“Dale was kind of adamant that I raced and I told him, like, I would just rather help him. I appreciate how excited he is to go run that race and he’s done a lot for me so I’m going to be his crew chief,” Berry said. “Other than that, we’re gonna look at, maybe we can run once or twice in November after the season, but I don’t really see anything happening during the season. We’re closing on the playoffs and I just really want to make sure that my focus is where it needs to be.”
Berry’s focus is on winning NXS races, en route to a NASCAR championship – a lifelong dream for him and his family.
“Both my daughter [Mackenzie] and my wife have been around racing their whole lives. When Mackenzie was six months old, she was going to late model races at Hickory and Southern National, so she’s been around it her whole life,” Berry said while also noting, “Obviously winning is great but she’s a little scared of victory lane lately. I don’t know, after Dover, they shot some cannons off and confetti and she was kind of spooked. The trophy and Miles the Monster were a little scary for her, so we’ve been working her up to do that. But I think it’s time she needs to get to victory lane again soon.”
The NASCAR Xfinity Series New Holland 250 goes green just after 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, August 5, at Michigan International Speedway (TV: USA; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90).