By every metric, Josh Berry had earned the opportunity to chase a NASCAR championship. It just came down to who was going to pay for it.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old has one of the thickest short track resumes in recent history. The 2017 CARS Late Model Stock Tour champion also captured track championships at legendary Hickory Motor Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway during a decade driving for JR Motorsports.
Berry led every lap of the prestigious Martinsville 300 in 2019 — one of over 75 victories at the short track level.
In between, Berry had picked up several appearances in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Truck Series, running competitively every time but never enough to secure the funding needed to stick at the national touring level.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. pleaded with the industry at large in 2015 for someone to help Berry run a full season, under the conviction that his driver would immediately validate that investment, but those efforts proved fruitless.
It took until 2021, a year after Berry claimed the NASCAR Weekly Series championship, for Berry to get his highest profile opportunity yet — 13 of the first 15 races of the Xfinity Series season in the JR Motorsports No. 8 until Sam Mayer was oldest enough to take over.
Had it been a full season effort, Berry could have contended for the championship with a victory at home in Martinsville and contending in other starts at Phoenix, Dover and Charlotte. If not for a fairly last-minute decision to put Miguel Paludo in the No. 8 on the road courses, Berry would already be in the playoffs and maybe something could have materialized for this season.
Regardless, Berry validated that he belonged on the track, and could serve corporate partnerships away from it.
Thus, JR Motorsports confirmed Berry to return to the No. 8 next season for a full season. Mayer will also return to the team next season, but the full lineup and crew chief assignments are to be decided.
Berry had also spent time this season driving the Rackley WAR entry in the Truck Series and occasional Xfinity Series starts for Jordan Anderson Racing as well. In recent week, Berry has actually driven the JRM No. 1 for the injured Michael Annett.
He had become the first call when a seat became available, and that’s the step right below getting a call to run full-time, which was finalized over the past several weeks.
One way or the other, Berry was going to race full-time in NASCAR next season, but everyone’s first choice was at home at JR Motorsports where he has competed in some form since 2010.
“JR Motorsports was pretty open with me the whole time about where we were with different things and it was still pretty early in the season, so we felt like we had time on our side,” Berry said. “I had a couple of what I thought were good offers to do some other things, but this is where I wanted to be, and wanted to race.
“I love the Xfinity Series cars and everything about it. I wanted to make this work and we were able to do it.”
Berry felt confident he could have driven for Rackley WAR next season or maybe even a Jordan Anderson entry across one of the two divisions and still hopes to drive for either organization in a part-time role next season if that option ever becomes available.
True to form, Berry just wants to race as frequently as possible next season, be it for the Xfinity Series championship in a part-time truck ride or in his Late Model Stock Car — something he expects to do a handful of times in 2022 as well.
Berry has also served as the de facto general manager of the JRM development program so working through what that becomes next year with him focusing mostly on the Xfinity Series opportunity is a work in progress.
Earnhardt has said he wants to field a Late Model for as long as JR Motorsports exists, but to what extend is dependent on personnel to run a full-fledged program and a customer to driver the cars.
“That’s all to be determined,” Berry said. “I’ve been a very integral part into that system, so figuring out what comes next for our Late Model program is something that we’re working on.
“But my personal goal is obviously, the 33-race schedule, first, and then the Late Model Stock four or five times once we sort out the schedule, but I want to race wherever we can.”
There are still races for sale on the No. 8 car next season, but with a nine-race commitment from Tire Pros, another nine-race deal to be announced from other partners and some other one-offs, JR Motorsports had enough to confirm the season.
With that said, Berry is still on the lookout for additional partners, and it will be just like the first half of the 2020 season and proving it.
“This is obviously very rewarding,” Berry said. “Very special. We didn’t shy away from the fact that this was our goal. Other days seemed more positive than others, but it was just a process. It’s always a process, so to be able to announce this yesterday, and seeing the kind of excitement it generated, it has me ready to get to work.”
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