Josh Berry’s resume would indicate he’s a top-shelf short track racer, but the JR Motorsports driver may need to expand that profile. Berry’s No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet led a commanding 65 laps en route to the win in the Alsco Uniforms 302 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday – his second victory in the last three races on the high-banked 1.5-miler.
Berry took the lead from A.J. Allmendinger with 34 laps remaining – the pair racing hard side-by-side at the front of the field on a late race restart. Berry even got shoved into the outside wall before recovering and moving into the lead for his fifth career win.
The Las Vegas native Noah Gragson – who led a race best 87 laps and earned his season-leading 14th stage win – finished second, 1.125-seconds behind Berry. Justin Allgaier was third, solidifying a JR Motorsports 1-2-3 podium-sweeping effort.
The win is hugely significant, earning Berry the automatic position in the Championship 4 in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 5 – his first opportunity to race for the season title.
“I think I hit the wall like 12 times,’’ Berry told his team on the radio during the cool-down lap.
When the 31-year old Tennessee native ultimately climbed out of his Chevy at the finish line, he took time to remove his helmet – standing alongside his Chevy and soaking in the importance of the day and the championship implications – far removed from his job as a bank teller years ago.
“I was a little bit tight off (Turn) 4 the whole time, and [Allmendinger] left me a lane but nothing extra, but I wasn’t letting off,’’ said Berry, who hadn’t led a lap in the last six races. “That was for a trip to Phoenix and I was willing to hit the wall or whatever. We’ve had a tough couple weeks or months, but we knew we could do this if we were at our best.
“Had a caution with 30 to go and was able to wrestle the lead away from those guys and build enough of a [points] gap to keep it,’’ Berry said. “I tell you, I’m just speechless.’’
Berry’s NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway also capped a memorable afternoon for Chevrolet. It marked Chevy’s 500th all-time win in the series and it clinched Chevrolet’s sixth consecutive NASCAR Xfinity Series Manufacturer’s Championship.
Allmendinger - the regular-season champion had to pit under green flag conditions shortly after racing Berry up front for the lead – a pair of loose tires ultimately derailing his day. Allmendinger’s 22nd place finish in the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet was the lowest among the eight current Playoff drivers.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ty Gibbs and former DAYTONA 500 winner Trevor Bayne completed the top-five Saturday. Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill, JRM’s Sam Mayer, Kaulig Racing’s Daniel Hemric, JGR’s Brandon Jones and Our Motorsports’ Anthony Alfredo rounded out the top-10.
Allmendinger was the only Playoff driver with a finish outside the top-10.
With Berry’s win and automatic berth into the Championship 4, Gragson now leads the standings by 19 points over Gibbs and 29-points ahead of Allgaier.
Hill (-15), Allmendinger (-16), Jones (-29), and Mayer (-36) head into the next round needing to make up points with two races remaining – at Homestead-Miami and Martinsville, Va. – to set the four-car championship lineup for Phoenix.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standout Hailie Deegan made her NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Las Vegas – earning a very respectable 13th place finish in her first race.
“I’m pretty excited right now, the guys gave me an amazing car,’’ Deegan said, noting that she would love the opportunity to race more in the Xfinity Series should a sponsor step up for funding.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to Playoff action in next week’s NASCAR triple-header weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Saturday’s Contender Boats 300 (4:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Myatt Snider is the defending race winner.