Josh Berry impresses in ‘Hail Mary’ race for JR Motorsports

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RICHMOND, Va. – Was Friday night the start of something special? Or will it be a night that Josh Berry will look upon years later with pride but also a nagging sense of what could have been?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. called putting Berry – a 24-year-old who competes for JR Motorsports’ Late Model team – a “Hail Mary,’’ a chance to put him in a good car and hope Berry could use his short-track skills at Richmond International Raceway to record a good finish and attract sponsor attention.

Berry, the 2014 track champion at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, impressed with a seventh-place in what is scheduled to be his only Xfinity start of the season. His run included a pass for position of Kyle Busch – Berry admits he thought at the time “Holy cow, I just passed Kyle Busch’’ – and a surge through the field that had he not been blocked in his pit stall on his final stop, he might have challenged for the lead.

But it’s what comes next that could define Berry’s career and if he’s to run more races in the Xfinity Series or if he remains at the Late Model level.

“I’m ready to race Josh every week,’’ Earnhardt said. “We’ve just got to find a partner.’’

While some will cry this is the flaw in auto racing – money supersedes talent in many cases – it’s a reality. Earlier this week, car owner Rick Hendrick noted how he put Jeff Gordon in a Sprint Cup car before he had sponsorship for it in 1992. Asked if he would do it now, Hendrick quickly said no. Costs are too great for such a gamble.

JR Motorsports is no different. It has to be responsible for its employees. Earnhardt says they want to run three teams next year and could run four but that’s all dependent on sponsorship.

The quest for sponsorship is a reason why Elliott Sadler reportedly will join the organization next year, bringing along his sponsor. It’s why there’s been no announcement if Regan Smith will return even though Earnhardt says he’d like Smith back. JR Motorsports also would like to run Ben Rhodes, a promising 18-year-old who won the K&N Pro Series East title a year ago, in more races.

Money matters.

Earnhardt’s notion of a “Hail Mary’’ might be a little off. For Berry, who ran two Xfinity races last year, he might need the equivalent of winning the lottery.

Then again, all it takes is one time to get that chance and have the opportunity to race full-time in the Xfinity Series.

“You never know who might have been watching the race,’’ said Earnhardt, after celebrating Chase Elliott‘s win for the organization. “You never know who might want to be involved in a company like JR Motorsports or even not knowing there’s an opportunity. There’s a lot of people out there that may assume we’re full and we’ve got all the sponsors and partners we need. Someone might see that there’s an opportunity and call us up and show some interest in Josh and further his career.’’