Craig Murto

Craig Murto

Dale Earnhardt Jr. always says he loves grassroots racing, and that’s one reason he puts so much money into his JR Motorsports Late Model Stock Car program.

Well, he couldn’t have been happier when one of his cars, driven by his longtime driver Josh Berry, dominated the field in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday night. And another of his cars, driven by journeyman racer Bubba Pollard, finished a strong fifth.

But it was more than domination. First Berry sat on the pole, breaking the track record for Late Model Stock Cars. Then he led every lap of the 200-lap feature event. Every single lap.

The race was split into stages. The first two stages were 75 laps each, the final stage 50. Unlike previous Martinsville Late Model Stock Car races, none of the stage breaks inverted the field at all for the restart. But the breaks did give other teams a chance to work on their cars and make adjustments in the hope of catching Berry on the track.

Restarts belonged to the JR Motorsports driver, however. Only once was Bobby McCarty able to make any significant challenge, and it didn’t last long. Berry was the class of the field.

The 29-year-old Berry has been a driver in the JR Motorsports stable for quite a while. Normally found behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock Car on the Championship Auto Racing Series (CARS) Tour or at some of the bigger NASCAR Late Model Stock Car events, he also works as a driver coach for JR Motorsports. After his performance at Martinsville, his qualifications as driver coach should not be questioned.

Berry has had a handful of starts in top NASCAR series. In 2014 he ran a couple of Xfinity races for JR Motorsports, finishing 12th at Iowa and 25th at Homestead. His best Xfinity finish was a seventh at Richmond in 2015. He’s had other sporadic attempts, and ran a NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway in 2016, finishing 13th.

Maybe Earnhardt will reward Berry for his Martinsville performance and allow him to compete in the Xfinity Series before the season is finished. Unfortunately, such opportunities are usually dependent upon funding. If any business owners out there want to find a good opportunity, this is certainly one driver waiting to be picked.

It’s almost certain Berry will compete in the CARS Tour race at South Boston Speedway in early November, so make a note and plan on a trip to one of America’s historic racetracks.

It’s too soon to call the track in Dover, Delaware, one of America’ most historic, but last weekend they were celebrating 100 visits by the NASCAR Cup Series. The track was also celebrating its 50th anniversary. And now Kyle Larson is celebrating his return to Victory Lane and an automatic entry into the next round of the playoffs.

It had been a long drought – 75 races to be exact – since Larson won a Cup race. But he gave competitors warning, setting fast times in practice and fastest averages at 10 and 15 laps. He also sat on the outside pole at the start of the race.

Now the pressure is off Larson as the series heads to Talladega, one of the most unpredictable races on the calendar. Everybody knows the big accident, “the big one,” is going to happen. But nobody knows when, and nobody knows who will get caught up in it.

Huge packs of cars travelling 200 mph in a draft just can’t get away from each other if somebody loses control. Surviving Talladega (and Daytona) is usually a matter of luck. Now that Larson is guaranteed a spot in the next round of the playoffs, he doesn’t have to have the high anxiety the rest of the playoff contenders will have as they tackle the high banks of NASCAR’s largest oval.

Pay attention to Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman, as he has been aggressive lately and not making many friends at the track. So far he’s angered Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney. Granted, these guys are competitors. But if you’re competing for a championship, is it wise to anger other drivers? One might decide that he’s had enough; it doesn’t take much contact to flatten a tire on these cars.