Martinsville takeaways: ‘Berry’ sweet win was a long time coming


When JR Motorsports late model driver Josh Berry was signed to a part-time Xfinity program for the organization this season, he knew he was ready for the opportunity.

But even after coming off a 2020 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series championship – the culmination of over a decade driving for JRM – Berry was worried.

During that decade, Berry had tried to establish himself in the Xfinity Series but only had a handful of starts from 2014-17 to show for it.

This new chance could end up being his last.

“To be honest, I was scared I wouldn’t win,” he said Sunday. “I was. We won almost 30 races (last season), winning anywhere and everywhere in a late model. And then you come into this.

“I’m 30 years old. I should be ready to win. The only chance I’ve got is if I win. I was worried about that and wanted to win bad and prove myself.”

On Sunday, that’s what he did. Berry led a race-high 95 laps, including the final 29, in claiming his first career Xfinity win in his 13th series start.

“This is a big day for a lot of people,” he said. “There’s been a lot of good people that have helped me along the way, too many to name, so I know that they’re all really excited about this.”

One of those people was JRM co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who watched the race from home. Unable to bear the tension in the closing laps, he walked outside with his wife, Amy.

“My heart was beating so fast,” Earnhardt recalled. “I’d never felt that way about a race, even when my dad raced and certainly when I raced. I’d never been so nervous about a finish.”

Earnhardt could only look at the TV again as Berry got the white flag. Once he got the checkered, tears were shed. Not just for the accomplishment, but what it took to get there.

“I think I’m not saying anything Josh doesn’t know – we just weren’t sure whether we’d ever get the chance to give Josh enough opportunities,” he said. “We gave him a few here and there, and getting a ‘shock the world’ kind of win and those one opportunities that come along every once in a while are tough to do.

“But we had a little string here of over a dozen races for him to run, and I thought ‘Well, maybe we can have something special happen during this span.’ I wasn’t sure exactly what special was gonna be, whether that’d be a win or not. But he just drove an amazing race. (Crew chief) Taylor (Moyer) and the guys did a great job giving him track position and a great car. It just happened.”

The respect for Berry was also evident in those he beat on Sunday.

JRM teammate Noah Gragson, who bonded with Berry following last month’s race at Las Vegas over games of blackjack, said that if he had to finish second to anyone, he’s glad it was him.

“I’m really thankful to get to know him,” Gragson said. “We’ve worked really hard together off the track, working out with (coaches) Josh Wise and Scott Speed, and preparing each and every weekend. I’m just very thankful, one for the opportunity to be on the same track as him, and for the way our friendship’s grown.”

Third-place finisher Daniel Hemric, who drove part-time in Berry’s No. 8 car last season, also recognized what Berry’s win means for the short-track community that they both call home.

“It lets you know that it can be done,” said Hemric, now with Joe Gibbs Racing. “If you put the effort in, put the work in, put the time in and continue to show up, hard work is rewarded. Him having that ride for these number of races this year, that opportunity he’s worked his tail off for his entire life. It was really cool to see.”

Martin Truex Jr., short track king

Read that headline again. Not long ago, such a headline would be preposterous.

Even after he overcame years of mid-pack mediocrity to become a NASCAR Cup Series champion and one of the sport’s elite drivers, Martin Truex Jr. could never solve the bullrings.

Then came the breakthrough: April 13, 2019 at Richmond Raceway. Truex led a race-high 186 laps and then held off a charging Joey Logano to finally claim his first short track win after going 0-for-80 to start his Cup career.

Since then, he’s gone five-for-11 on the short tracks. That run includes three wins in the last four races at Martinsville Speedway, where he out-dueled Denny Hamlin in the closing laps on Sunday.

MORE: Winners and losers from Sunday’s Martinsville races

MORE: Another top five for Hamlin, but will no wins hurt him later?

It’s not like Truex had never been great on short tracks before recently.

During his run to the 2004 Xfinity Series title, he claimed victories at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway and the 3/4-mile Memphis International Raceway.

When he repeated as Xfinity champion in 2005, his sixth and final win that year came at the .686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis.

During those years, he also won at several, “short track adjacent” miles: Concrete, high-banked Dover International Raceway, flat New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and the long gone Nazareth Speedway.

“There was a time in my career when I go back to the (Xfinity) Series days, all the races I won there were short tracks,” Truex recalled Sunday. “We never won any mile-and-a-halves – “Damn, I need to get better at mile-and-a-halves.’ You work on that. In the Cup Series, every track is tough. Everybody is working constantly at being better every type of track.

“For whatever reason for me, the short tracks never really panned out (in Cup). Even though we had a lot of great runs over the years, for instance, I think we led the most laps at Richmond three or four races in a row before we finally won there. Sometimes, you need things to go your way.”

Things went Truex’s way Sunday, a day where Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin (race-high 276 laps led) and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney (157 laps led) were the strongest drivers.

Truex couldn’t match either of them for much of the race until his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota came alive as the afternoon progressed into the evening.

During the race’s final pit stops, the No. 19 crew got Truex out first while Blaney committed a costly mistake. Hamlin regained the lead off the restart with 42 laps to go, but as his No. 11 JGR Toyota tightened up on the long run, Truex caught and eventually dispatched him with 16 laps to go.

With his third grandfather clock now in possession, Truex has turned Martinsville from a symbol of his short track woes in Cup – prior to 2017, his best finish there were a pair of fifths – into a place where he’s the driver to beat.

And when it comes to short tracks in general, he’s turned the preposterous into reality.

“I’ve just been lucky to be with really good people, have really good cars, have that communication, that belief in one another that you can make the thing do the things you want it to do,” Truex said. “They know you’re driving it right, you know they know how to set it up. You work together.

“That’s where we’ve been the past, really, six, seven years (at Martinsville). It’s a place where it doesn’t change all that much other than depending on the tires that Goodyear brings. You can really just continue to work on similar things and refine those. That’s what we’ve been able to do here.

“It’s been awesome. Hopefully we can keep it going.”


Martin Truex Jr. became the first repeat winner of 2021, but it could’ve been Ryan Blaney.

The Team Penske pilot swept both stages Sunday and was poised to duke it out for the win with Hamlin. But on his final stop under caution with 47 laps to go, he ran over his air hose and took the pit gun with him as he exited his pit stall.

The subsequent penalty sent him to the rear for the restart. Blaney finished 11th.

Martinsville takeaways
A late-race penalty for removing pit equipment outside his box ruined Ryan Blaney’s hopes for a win Sunday at Martinsville. (Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images)

On Monday, Blaney’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, explained what went wrong during the stop on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“There’s about three or four different things that happened that kind of caused it,” Gordon said. “It’s not one piece. It’s not one person. It’s just an unfortunate situation.

“We slid long in the box, near the front of it. The hose got underneath the front of the nose by being long, and the hose puller behind the wall tried to loop it back out. When he did, it pulled the corner out by the changer under the splitter. When (the changer) got up from changing the right front (tire), the hose was hooked there on the right side of the splitter.”

The gaffe continued a string of recent setbacks for Blaney at Martinsville.

Last June, Blaney was leading when a caution came out on Lap 327. During subsequent pit stops, a member of the No. 12 crew went over the wall too soon and Blaney was sent to the rear. He climbed all the way back to second with less than 50 laps to go, but went no further.

Last November in the playoff race, Blaney recovered from a pit road speeding penalty in Stage 1 to contend. He was running second at the race’s final caution with 59 laps to go, but lost two spots in the pits and took the final restart in fifth (one car stayed out to inherit the lead). Again, Blaney worked back up to second, but came up short.

On Sunday, Blaney’s hopes were dashed again in the pits.

“I was just kind of trying to hold off the guys behind me until we got 20 or so laps in and then I could kind of start creeping forward,” Blaney said after the race. “But, we just got that pit road penalty at the end. It’s just a mistake and something that should be avoided.

“We’ve had an issue the last three times we’ve been here with a car to win, so that’s frustrating but I’m real proud of the effort. I just wish we could close one out.”

That clean feeling

Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott is still missing his first win of the season. But after finishing second Sunday, he was just glad to have had a clean run.

Elliott’s first seven races included a win slipping away at the Daytona road course, sub-par runs at Miami and Las Vegas, and an engine failure at his home track of Atlanta.

Martinsville Cup race
Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott’s second-place finish at Martinsville was just what he needed after a rocky start to the season. (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

But Sunday saw him avoid trouble in route to a season-high 49 points. That includes 14 stage points (finished fourth in both stages), the most he’s had since the 15 he scored at the Daytona road course before finishing 21st.

“Every week, I feel like it’s been one thing or another, a bad run or just whatever,” Elliott said. “Just nice to have just a smooth day, no damage. We didn’t break anything. Everything was just smooth. It was uneventful. That’s the days you have to have to compete for wins ultimately. Some of that is in your hands, some of it’s not.

“Truly nice to have an uneventful day, so to speak, just get a solid finish. Got some solid stage points. It was definitely a step in the right direction for us.”

During the final run to the checkered flag, Elliott closed on Truex and Hamlin as they started to battle for the lead with around 25 laps to go.

Once Truex took the lead, he pulled enough of a gap to where the result wasn’t in doubt, even after Elliott worked past Hamlin for second with five laps to go.

“Rear grip for me was kind of the story of my day,” Elliott said. “That was also the problem there at the end. Just didn’t have the drive I needed to get up off the corner like I wanted and to be able to really get the power down early.”

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


Cup and Xfinity teams will be on track Saturday at Sonoma Raceway.

Cup teams will practice and qualify for Sunday’s race. Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday on the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California.

Sonoma Raceway


Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 75 degrees. Forecast is for mostly cloudy skies, a high of 71 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Saturday, June 10

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing


SONOMA, Calif. — Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins laughs. He can. His Xfinity Series cars all are here at Sonoma Raceway.

At one point last week, it was not certain if his team’s cars would make it to Portland International Raceway.

“It was probably the toughest professional week I’ve had of my NASCAR career,” Martins told NBC Sports on Friday at Sonoma.

MORE: Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma

The Alpha Prime Racing team had both its trucks break down and one of its haulers have mechanical issues last week on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“We basically sent four pieces of equipment on the road and three of them broke,” Martins said.

For a time, the car Sage Karam is driving this weekend at Sonoma was left in a hauler in Kansas City because there wasn’t room in the dually Martins sent. It had room only for the car that was needed at Portland and other equipment. Karam’s car, which was to be a backup at Portland, was left behind.

“It’s a very helpless feeling when you feel like your stuff is stuck on the side of the road,” Martins said.

He still has one truck still in St. Louis and another in Oregon. Martins estimates the mechanical issues will cost his team about $50,000 when everything is totaled.

Trouble started well before the team left its Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop for Portland.

The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte was scheduled to run May 27. Rain forced that event to be rescheduled to May 29. Martins said the team had planned to send its trucks to Portland on May 28. With the race pushed back to the 29th, the travel schedule tightened.

It got worse.

After the Xfinity race started, rain came. With the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled for 3 p.m. ET that day – after being delayed by rain from Sunday – the rest of the Xfinity race was pushed back until after the 600. That further tightened the window on Xfinity teams to make it to Portland.

The Xfinity race ended around 11:30 p.m. ET on May 29. Alpha Prime Racing’s haulers left the shop around 6 a.m. ET on May 30.

The two trucks traveled together until issues in St. Louis.

The truck hauling the Nos. 44 and 45 cars had engine issues in St. Louis. The other truck kept going until it had mechanical issues with its hauler in Kansas City. The air bags on the hauler failed.

So, Alpha Prime Racing had a truck that worked in Kansas City with a hauler that didn’t and a truck that didn’t work in St. Louis with a hauler that did.

The truck in Kansas City went back to St. Louis to attach to the hauler and take those cars and equipment to Portland. Martins then had to find something to haul the stranded equipment in Kansas City and a driver. He eventually did. A dually left North Carolina for Kansas City. Once there, what fit in the dually was taken to Portland and what didn’t, including Karam’s Sonoma car stayed behind.

Yet, more trouble was headed for Martins and his team.

The truck that had gone back from Kansas City to St. Louis to take hauler that worked then broke down about 200 miles from Portland.

“I laugh knowing that we’re on the other side of it,” Martins said Friday of all the issues his team had transporting cars and equipment across the country.

“We’ve started to make plans and corrections for it not happening again,” he said.

That hauler that was left in Kansas City? It was repaired and transported to Sonoma, arriving earlier this week.

“Our guys are troopers,” Martins said. “Both of our (truck) drivers were just awesome about the whole thing. … They went through hell week as far as driving somewhere, fly back and pick something up, drive again and now are going to have to do the same thing getting back.”

When the garage opened Friday at Sonoma, Alpha Prime Racing had all its cars.

“I don’t think we had any major issues here, so that was good,” Martins said.

The focus is back on the track. Karam was 24th on the speed chart in Friday’s practice, leading Alpha Prime Racing’s effort. Dylan Lupton was 32nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt was last among 41 cars.

After Saturday night’s race, the team heads back to North Carolina for a well-earned weekend off.

Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Xfinity Series practice at Sonoma Raceway.

This is the first time the series has raced at the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California. Teams got 50 minutes of practice Friday.

Larson led the way with a lap of 90.392 mph. He was more than a second faster than the rest of the field.

MORE: Xfinity practice results Sonoma

Sheldon Creed was second on the speed chart with a lap of 89.066 mph. He was followed by AJ Allmendinger (89.052 mph), Cole Custer (89.020) and Ty Gibbs (88.989).

Larson, Allmendinger and Gibbs are among seven Cup drivers are entered in the Xfinity race. Aric Almirola was seventh on the speed chart with a lap of 88.750 mph. Ross Chastain was ninth with a lap of 88.625 mph. Daniel Suarez was 16th with a lap of 88.300 mph. Ty Dillon was 33rd with a lap of 86.828 mph.

Anthony Alfredo will go to a backup car after a crash in practice. He was uninjured in the incident that damaged the right side of his car.

Qualifying is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Saturday. The race is scheduled to begin at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

Anthony Alfredo’s car after a crash in Xfinity practice Friday at Sonoma Raceway. He was uninjured. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Saturday Sonoma Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


The Xfinity Series will compete for the first time at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This is one of eight road course events on the Xfinity schedule this season.

Seven Cup drivers are scheduled to compete in Saturday’s race, including AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, who won last year’s Cup race at this track Allmendinger has won 11 of 25 career road course starts in the Xfinity Series.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Golden State Warrior Patrick Baldwin Jr. will give the command to start engines at 8:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 7:35 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Earl Smith, team pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, at 8 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by 9-year-old Isis Mikayle Castillo at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 79 laps (156.95 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 45.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard on … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mostly cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: This is the first time the Xfinity Series has raced at Sonoma.