Saturday Road America Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Will history repeat by not repeating at Road America?

Never in the 12 previous Xfinity races at this 4.048-mile road course has the same driver won more than once.

Only three drivers in Saturday’s field have won in the Xfinity Series at Road America: AJ Allmendinger (2013), Jeremy Clements (2017) and Justin Allgaier (2018).

Kyle Larson, making his first Xfinity start since 2018, will start on the pole for Saturday’s race on USA Network.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Road America

(All times Eastern)

START: Arianna Imperato will give the command to start engines at 2:41 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:55 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 10 a.m. … Driver introductions are at 1:55 p.m. … Father Dale Grubba will give the invocation at 2:33 p.m. … Anastasia Lee will perform the National Anthem at 2:34 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 45 laps (182.16 miles) on the 4.048-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 10. Stage 2 ends at Lap 20.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 2:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. Post-race coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. … Motor Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2 p.m. and also will stream at MRN.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBC Sports

FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly cloudy, high of 81 degrees, 13% chance of rain around start of the race

LAST YEAR: Kyle Busch won last year’s race. Daniel Hemric placed second. Michael Annett was third.

‘Life-changing’: Josh Berry returns to Martinsville a year after first win

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Every racer dreams of their moment. Some drivers get them, but most don’t.

Josh Berry thought his moment came and went in 2015, when a seventh-place run in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond Raceway didn’t return any significant sponsorship opportunities.

But six years later, Berry earned his moment – an Xfinity Series victory at Martinsville Speedway on April 11, 2021, driving a part-time schedule in the No. 8 Chevrolet. The 31-year-old JR Motorsports driver returns for the one-year anniversary of that win Friday night, but 12 months later, he’s still trying to process how that victory changed his life.

DEEP ROOTS AT JRM

Josh Berry charged through the racing ranks in his home state of Tennessee. By the time he was 19 years old, the Hendersonville native was already a six-time champion through various Legends divisions, including a track championship at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville in 2009.

Simultaneously, Berry was working as a bank teller in his hometown, trying to make enough money to keep racing feasible. He also developed a strong friendship with Dale Earnhardt Jr. through their iRacing connections.

By 2010, Earnhardt hired Berry to drive his late model stock car for JR Motorsports, meaning Berry would have to move to North Carolina.

Kelley Earnhardt Miller, co-owner of JRM, helped make sure the then-20-year-old Berry would be right at home, as Berry moved in with her mother, Brenda Jackson, and stepfather William Jackson.

“If you know me well, I have a very nurturing personality,” Earnhardt Miller told NBC Sports. “I mean my relationship with Dale is that way in terms of  us growing up and kind of being that mother hen. I am the mother hen, I tell the guys here at the shop. And I just want to see people be happy. I want to see them do well.”

Berry, an only child, had lost his mother and had been racing with his father before moving east to drive for JRM. By the time he moved into the Gee household, he suddenly found himself a part of the Earnhardt family with a motorsports career in sight.

“The opportunity that I got to move out here and to work and race a late model car and get to basically race for a living is something that I just never dreamed would be possible for me,” Berry told NBC Sports.

THE ‘HAIL MARY’ OPPORTUNITY

By 2015, Berry was no longer the newcomer on the late model tour.

Driving JRM’s No. 88 Chevrolet, Berry stormed to track championships at Motor Mile Speedway in 2012 and Hickory Motor Speedway in 2014 and was racking up wins on a regular basis, collecting nearly 50 career victories by September 2015.

Berry made two Xfinity starts for JRM in 2014, his debut coming at Iowa before participating in the season finale at Homestead, finishing 12th and 25th respectively.

Then came his moment. In a last-minute, “Hail Mary” deal as Earnhardt phrased it, Berry was entered in the No. 88 SpeedCo Chevrolet for the Xfinity race at Richmond in September 2015, the late model driver hired because sponsorship hadn’t been sold otherwise.

Berry qualified fifth and was in contention to win late in the race. Running fourth under caution with less than 30 laps to go, Berry was blocked in his pit stall by Bubba Wallace, forcing him to back up and costing him painful seconds on pit road. Berry fell to ninth and rebounded to finish seventh.

“I think about that night often because it was a great field of cars and I mean stacked with Cup drivers – Kyle Busch, (Joey) Logano,” Berry recalled.

Included in that rundown were several active or eventual Cup drivers, including Wallace, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain.

Elliott, Berry’s teammate, won the race, providing Earnhardt a chance to make his case for Berry.

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

But the partner never came.

“If anybody thinks about me now, I wonder if they remember that race,” Berry said, “because that race, I was a nobody and ran in the top five, ran in the top three and really, like if a certain chain of events happen, I can win it.”

Berry made two more starts for JRM in 2016 and placed ninth at Iowa and 13th at Kentucky. But the upward progression stalled. 

“Honestly I felt like that was it for me,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Man, (after) this whole chain of events, I’ll never get back in the Xfinity car. …

“That was my moment. But again, it didn’t come.”

CARVING HIS NICHE

With a lack of sponsorship to race in NASCAR, Berry took his frustration and “turned to just trying to race the hell out of the late model as much as I could.”

As part of JRM’s late model program, Berry was an integral part of working on the cars with crew chief and team manager Bryan Shaffer. And while knocking out win after win, Berry also mentored JRM’s new late model drivers along the way – guys like William Byron, Anthony Alfredo, Sam Mayer and Christian Eckes.

The success kept rolling in, and Berry became more than content in his role, looking past the frustration of his NASCAR endeavors – or the lack thereof.

“I just thought it just wasn’t meant to be,” Berry said. “I thought that my career would lead me to be a career short-track racer and a very good one. And I am and I was, and the things that I accomplished on my resume prove that we’ve had an amazing run in that. And I was at peace with that.

“I know how difficult it is to race at that level, and I know the competition and what it takes to do it. That’s just basically what I thought I was meant to do.”

MARTINSVILLE MEMORIES

Berry has been racing at Martinsville Speedway since 2011. In late model stock racing, there is no greater victory than the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.

“Martinsville is the race,” Berry said. “People’s careers, right or wrong, are judged on whether you’ve won Martinsville or not in that arena. It’s no different than somebody judging a Cup driver because they haven’t won the championship, or they haven’t won the Daytona 500. I mean, that’s what it is.

“You can win every late model stock in the world. But if you haven’t won Martinsville, then everyone’s always gonna say you haven’t won Martinsville.”

Heading into the 2019 edition of the race, Berry was 0-for-8. He didn’t qualify for the 2013 event and crashed out at least three times. His best finish was 13th twice. In 2018, Berry led 93 of 200 laps but got spun late in the event and finished 19th.

“I remember leaving that night thinking like, that’s never gonna happen again,” Berry recalled. “Like, I just remember thinking, I don’t care what I got to do, I’m gonna win this race.”

He did. One year later, Berry dominated the 2019 event, winning the pole and leading all 200 laps en route to the pinnacle win of his late model career.

“It was a huge moment for me personally,” Berry said. “I think I left that night … I was content being the short-track racer and all that, and I think that was just a huge moment of me accomplishing something that was just really important to me.”

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

As Sam Mayer made his transition from late models into NASCAR’s national series, JRM signed the young Wisconsin prospect to an Xfinity Series deal that would see him in the company’s No. 8 Chevrolet starting in June 2021.

There was one problem – at age 17, Mayer was too young to run the full schedule. That left 15 races for JRM to fill before Mayer could take over at Pocono after he turned 18.

“We just started really thinking through, OK, what does the first half of this season look like?” Earnhardt Miller said. “Honestly, we talked to Jeb Burton about doing that. There were several other drivers that we talked to.”

But every driver wants to compete for the full season and a championship. That wasn’t an option.

Then came the idea to put Berry behind the wheel for 12 races, while Miguel Paludo would pilot the car in the three road course races during that stretch.

“It was a conversation that, as we were thinking through what we could do, both Dale and I were like, ‘OK, is this a good place? Is this a good fit for Josh Berry?’” she said. “And we really took a leap of faith from a funding standpoint to say, ‘OK, well, let’s do this, and let’s give him the opportunity to do it.’”

CASHING IN

The first five races of 2021 hadn’t gone particularly well for Berry, producing two top 10s and three DNFs for wrecks.

But the next race on the schedule was Martinsville, the race he and everybody had circled on his calendar. For the first time in his NASCAR career, he was going back to a track he was familiar with and had significant past success to rely on.

“At the same time, I was a little nervous for all those same reasons,” Berry said. “I’m like, this is my opportunity, right? If Josh Berry is ever gonna have his moment, is ever going to do anything with this opportunity, this is the place. And everyone knew it. My team knew it. Dale knew it. Kelley knew it. Everyone knew it. They had their eyes on me that weekend.”

With no qualifying, Berry lined up 29th for that race on April 9, and by using pit strategy, jumped up the leaderboard to start Stage 2. By Lap 78, Berry was out front and leading the first laps of his Xfinity career. Berry led 10 circuits before Brandon Jones worked past him again, and the caution soon fell for rain. That red-flagged the event until Sunday afternoon.

“I remember thinking like, ‘I just led my first laps. Like, I can do this. I can win this race. This can really happen,” Berry said. “I just went home and watched the race back and thought about it and studied it and just came back Sunday and was just ready.”

On Sunday, Berry’s homework spoke for itself. With just over 100 laps remaining, Berry reclaimed the top spot and put his studies on display. Ty Gibbs worked past Berry at Lap 194 and was out front for a 28-lap stretch, but Berry muscled back around him with 29 laps to go.

He counted down every lap, praying the caution flag wouldn’t fly. It didn’t. Berry became a winner in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“Everything I had been talking about, like that moment – that moment happened,” Berry said. 

MAKING IT LAST

Winning makes most things better. But occasionally, those wins become fleeting moments.

So why did Berry’s win prove to have some lasting power? How did he go from the driver who had Dale Earnhardt Jr. begging for sponsors to someone with enough backing to race full-time in the Xfinity Series? The first answer stems from the “perfect storm” of Berry winning on a Sunday ahead of the Cup race, Earnhardt Miller said.

“They (Cup teams and drivers) had to be there,” she said. “That was still in the midst of COVID whenever we were supposed to be there on different days, but we ended up not being (that way) for weather. … I mean winning the race was huge, but the buzz of the Kyle Busches and different people that were talking about Josh and congratulating him and all these different things, the buzz that that created really was helpful.”

The second answer is how Berry continued to back up his performances on the track. Two weeks after winning, Berry finished second at Darlington and again the following week at Dover. 

“The eyeballs were there once he got in the car and he did well,” Earnhardt Miller said. “And I think that we didn’t have a doubt that really that would be the way that it went. But it’s hard to get in these race cars and contend, and I really attribute that to his late model career, the fact that he knows race cars in and out.”

By August, Berry was announced as the next full-time driver for JRM. In the aftermath of his win, Tire Pros extended its sponsorship with JRM and Harrison’s, a workwear clothing outlet with locations in North Carolina and South Carolina, signed on to support Berry in 2022. Harrison’s had previously sponsored super late model driver Bubba Pollard and wanted to rally around a NASCAR driver with similar roots, Earnhardt Miller said.

She also believes Berry’s success was easy for long-time fans to root for.

“It gave people what they’ve been wanting to see in terms of somebody truly making it on what they felt like was merit, and not just merit, but the way that the old racers made it, right?” Earnhardt Miller said, noting her father and seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. didn’t make his first Cup start until he was 28 years old.

“I think that really was probably the thing that propelled Josh up there, really, because people really wanted to wrap their arms around that. And I don’t mean that other people haven’t made it on merit. But that was somebody that they followed, and they knew this 10-year history and then all of a sudden got this opportunity, which people were ecstatic about. And then to put it in victory lane just kind of solidified that whole process.”

BACK TO THE PAPERCLIP

Heading into Martinsville this weekend, Berry sits fifth in Xfinity points with three top fives and four top 10s through seven races. 

It’s been a strong start for the No. 8 team, but Berry is still trying to wrap his head around where his career has taken him.

“Really amazing when I sit and think about it, just how much changed,” Berry said. “And obviously the win, I’ve described it as life-changing, I think that’s the best way to put it. That led to the opportunity to have this year full-time at JRM, but just along the way, not only that, but so many other opportunities come down.

“I was able to make a couple of Cup starts at Spire Motorsports, Truck races, more Xfinity races. It’s just been amazing just how much that really changed. 

“I mean, it was just such a huge day.”

Numbers of note: Las Vegas stats and storylines to know

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Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a staple on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule since its debut in 1998.

Twenty-eight Cup races at the mile-and-a-half “Diamond in the Desert” give plenty of data points for track history — and the Xfinity Series has raced there since 1997.

There’s plenty of trends to dissect that might help figure out who will be contenders in this weekend’s Xfinity and Cup races, with statistics courtesy of Racing Insights.

Cup Series

— The last time there was qualifying at Las Vegas was September 2019, when Clint Bowyer won the pole. Saturday’s qualifying session will mark 903 days between pole runs.

— Only once in the last eight Las Vegas races was the first caution not a scheduled caution (three competition cautions, four stage-ending yellows). The lone exception came in March 2020, when Daniel Suarez‘s car stalled on the track.

— In three of the last four Las Vegas races, the eventual winner led before lap 30.

Kyle Larson (March) and Denny Hamlin (September) both led the most laps en route to their respective Vegas wins last year. They are the only drivers to led the most laps and win the event in the last seven Vegas races.

— A Las Vegas winner has won that year’s championship seven times, most recently with Larson in 2021.

— Two Las Vegas races were won with a last-lap pass, most recently in 2014 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel on the final lap and was passed for the win by Brad Keselowski.

— Three Las Vegas races had an overtime finish, most recently in September 2020.

— Stage 2 winners have gone on to win four of the last five races at 1.5-mile tracks.

Martin Truex Jr. has 12 wins on mile-and-a-half tracks but is winless on them in the last two years.

— The final green-flag stretch was four laps or less in both races this season.

— Larson won four of the last six races on the West Coast, the best stretch of wins on the West Coast since Jimmie Johnson won five of six in 2009-2010.

Alex Bowman has double the wins (four) of Chase Elliott (two) since Chase won the Championship in 2020.

— Stewart-Haas Racing has four top 10s this season, the most of any organization. Last year marked SHR’s fewest top 10s in the last eight seasons (34).

— First to 25th in points are separated by 55 points. Bowman, in 25th, could technically leave Las Vegas with the points lead.

Xfinity Series

Josh Berry became the only rookie driver to win an Xfinity race at Las Vegas last September while subbing for injured Michael Annett.

Chase Briscoe (swept 2020) and Kyle Busch (2016, March 2019) are the only repeat winners in the last 17 Las Vegas races.

— Two drivers swept both stages at Las Vegas and won: Ross Chastain in September 2018 and Chase Briscoe in September 2020.

— The final green-flag stretch was 13 laps or less in six of the last nine Vegas races.

— However, the final run to the checkers last September was 76 laps, the second-longest final green-flag stretch ever at the track.

— The first caution was on Lap 9 or sooner in six of the last 10 races at Las Vegas.

— There were eight cautions at Las Vegas in March 2021, tied for the most in the last eight races there.

— Brad Keselowski (2014) and Jeff Burton (2000) are the only drivers to sweep the NXS/Cup races in a Las Vegas weekend. Only Daniel Hemric is expected to run both races this weekend.

— Only twice has the winner of the Las Vegas race gone on to win the NXS title (Ricky Stenhouse Jr, 2012; Tyler Reddick, September 2019).

— Kyle Busch led 199 of 200 laps in his March 2016 win at Las Vegas, the most dominating win ever on a 1.5-mile track.

— JR Motorsports’ first of 58 wins came at Las Vegas in 2008 when Mark Martin won.

— Eight drivers finished top 10 in both Las Vegas races in 2021: Harrison Burton, Justin Haley, Josh Berry, AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, Austin Cindric, Brandon Jones and Daniel Hemric.

— Gragson, Cindric and Hemric also finished in the top five in each race.

Ty Gibbs won the last race on a 1.5-mile track at Kansas Speedway in October 2021. At 19 years and 19 days, Gibbs became the second-youngest driver to ever win multiple races on 1.5-mile tracks behind Chase Elliott.

Silly season scorecard: New year, new rides

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In roughly one month, NASCAR Cup Series teams will head west to Los Angeles for the exhibition Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. There, the Next Gen car will make its long-awaited debut in competition.

Then, less than two weeks later, those teams will be joined by their Xfinity and Truck Series brethren at Daytona for the official start of the 2022 season.

As a new year dawns and a new season looms, it’s time to check out our updated NASCAR silly season scorecard.

Here’s how the NASCAR Silly Season scorecard looks:

Announced Cup rides for 2022

No. 1: Ross Chastain joins Trackhouse as it expands to two cars following last year’s purchase of Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR operations.

No. 2: Austin Cindric becomes a Cup rookie at Team Penske.

No. 6: Brad Keselowski has joined the rechristened RFK Racing as a driver/owner.

No. 7: Corey LaJoie remains with Spire Motorsports.

No. 16: As Kaulig Racing goes full-time in Cup with two entries, their No. 16 will be shared by AJ Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson.

No. 21: Harrison Burton becomes a Cup rookie with Penske-aligned Wood Brothers Racing.

No. 27: The new Team Hezeberg will run all six road course races, but may also run some short track races. 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Loris Hezemans will be its driver.

No. 31: Justin Haley will be the sole driver of Kaulig Racing’s other Cup entry. His number, the No. 31, was confirmed in December.

No. 34: Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell is back for a fifth season with Front Row Motorsports.

No. 38: After three full seasons in the Truck Series, Todd Gilliland moves up to Cup in Front Row Motorsports’ second entry.

No. 42: The merger of Richard Petty Motorsports and GMS Racing’s Cup operations brings Ty Dillon into the fold. Before the merger, Dillon was announced to run the full 2022 Cup season for GMS.

No. 43: Erik Jones stays on for the new Petty GMS Motorsports.

No. 45: Kurt Busch drives a new second car for 23XI Racing. The entry will run with a team charter.

No. 62: Beard Motorsports will maintain its superspeedway-only schedule. Noah Gragson will join the team to attempt the Daytona 500.

Cup driver contract extensions

No. 5: Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports announced a one-year extension last July.

No. 11Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing announced a multi-year extension last February.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. and Joe Gibbs Racing announced an extension last February. Length of contract unknown.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and JTG Daugherty Racing confirmed a one-year extension last September.

No. 48: Alex Bowman and Hendrick Motorsports announced a two-year extension last June.

Available Cup rides for 2022

Rick Ware Racing: RWR plans to field two full-time entries in 2022 and is mulling over a third entry. RWR will join Ford and align with both Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Yates Engines.

Cup notables yet to announce 2022 plans

Ryan Newman: Replaced by Brad Keselowski in the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford.

Matt DiBenedetto: Replaced by Harrison Burton in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

Ryan Preece: Lost his ride at JTG Daugherty Racing as the team scales back to a single car.

Xfinity Series 2022 notable announcements

Alpha Prime Racing: Tommy Joe Martins and Caesar Bacarella have partnered to form a new team. Martins and Bacarella are part of its driver lineup, along with Andy Lally (road courses), Ryan Ellis and Rajah Caruth.

Big Machine Racing: Entering enhanced partnership with Richard Childress RacingJade Buford and Patrick Donahue return as driver and crew chief, respectively.

BJ McLeod Motorsports: Josh Williams (formerly with DGM Racing) and Stefan Parsons will both run full-time in 2022 for BJ McLeod’s operation.

Emerling-Gase Motorsports: After announcing the formation of his own Xfinity Series team in November, Joey Gase has since brought on NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Patrick Emerling as a partner. That’s led to the team’s rechristening as Emerling-Gase Motorsports.

Jordan Anderson Racing: Myatt Snider moves from Richard Childress Racing to JAR in a full-time ride for 2022.

JR Motorsports: Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson are both returning to JRM … 2021 JRM part-timers Josh Berry and Sam Mayer will both move up to full-time status … Michael Annett has retired from full-time racing.

Kaulig Racing: Team veteran AJ Allmendinger is now flanked by newcomers Landon Cassill and Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric.

Our Motorsports: Fielding three-car lineup with Jeb Burton (formerly with Kaulig Racing) and Anthony Alfredo (formerly with Front Row Motorsports in Cup) joining returnee Brett Moffitt.

Richard Childress Racing: Sheldon Creed and Austin Hill will both move up from the Truck Series to Xfinity with RCR.

Analysis: Four part-time Xfinity Series drivers deserving of regular rides in 2022

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series was a melting pot of talent in 2021. It featured drivers from different corners of auto racing in equipment of varying competitive levels. In some cases, these drivers offered mere glimpses of what they could do with more starts under their belts.

One of the biggest yearlong stories was Ty Gibbs establishing himself as a consistent win threat despite making just 18 starts. He’ll contend for the series championship in 2022. With other part-timers making a dent in their cameo appearances, he won’t be alone in this quest. Four other drivers have statistical strengths that require more cultivating.

Josh Berry, Santino Ferrucci, Preston Pardus and Sage Karam also made the most of part-time Xfinity Series opportunities this season. Positives for each of them can be quantified and another year with more frequent appearances could lead to bigger and better things.

Josh Berry

It seems everyone who encounters Berry comes away smitten. It’s one way to explain his employment, albeit some of it temporary, with seven different teams across NASCAR’s three national series this season. He earned return calls after short-notice substitutions in two instances — for Spire Motorsports in the Cup Series and filling in for injured JR Motorsports stable mate Michael Annett.

But beyond an endearing personality is a driver who proved himself as a standout long-run passer. His +5.44% surplus passing value ranked in the 99th percentile of a group containing the 12 most statistically productive Xfinity Series talents. Berry also was a restarter on par with Gibbs and AJ Allmendinger, two drivers who combined for nine wins this season:

Berry’s year contained some discernible weaknesses, though most weren’t entirely his doing. His average running position after one competitive lap (or initial position, as noted on the above graph) was around 19th, the worst initial position of this group. That’s in part due to a kink of the metric qualifying procedure utilized in 2021. If he wasn’t in a specific car the week prior, he’d start toward the rear of the field.

This made track position a consistent need for Berry. He satisfied some of the need with his long-run passing — he secured a pass differential 203 positions better than his statistical expectation. A full-time effort for JR Motorsports will eliminate this hurdle altogether while also supplying him a more consistent brand of speed and, potentially, a pit crew with a faster median four-tire box time (noted as “YF Pit Defense”), both areas for concern in his 22-race piecemeal campaign.

One other area he’ll have to address is his crashing. Wrecking or spinning 0.41 times per race this year, his crash rate fared as one of the worst of this talented group, unbecoming of a driver with championship aspirations.

Certainly, those aspirations are legitimate as the majority of his peripheral stats indicate. But given his age — he turned 31 last month — what he’s able to do right now in the Xfinity Series might not be indicative of future growth. His formative years were spent competing for championships in Late Model stock cars while a slew of younger drivers became winners, champions or top-tier producers in the Cup Series. He’s more than a few steps behind his would-be competition, if he ever reaches NASCAR’s top level on regular basis.

But for Berry, the Xfinity Series provides permanence in 2022 and that’s more than what most former part-timers ever receive. He has the quantifiable chops to make the most of this opportunity and should seriously contend for the series championship in a ride capable of such success.

Santino Ferrucci

The Connecticut-born 23-year-old with experience competing in IndyCar and Formula 2 says NASCAR was always where he wanted to end up. After his stock car debut this year, a pleasant surprise for Sam Hunt Racing in the Xfinity Series middle tier, it seems his fit with the fendered form of auto racing is natural.

Among drivers with six or more starts, Ferrucci’s 1.536 Production in Equal Equipment Rating ranked 13th, just ahead of Berry, Brett Moffitt, Ty Dillon and Harrison Burton. Ferrucci also flashed signs of potential short-run stardom. Among drivers with at least six restart attempts from inside the first seven rows, only Kyle Busch submitted a better position retention rate than Ferrucci’s 83.33% clip, the entirety of which came on choose-rule tracks.

And he did it all without a single practice lap.

“It’s really hard to do this without any track time,” Ferrucci told The Associated Press in July. “Every single one of my laps in NASCAR has been race laps.”

Nevertheless, Ferrucci demonstrated some tantalizing potential. In a revolving-door ride — seven different drivers took two or more turns behind the wheel of the Andrew Abbott-led car — his average best lap ranking of 18.0 was the second fastest of the group. That trailed only John Hunter Nemechek (11.5), a 13-time winner in NASCAR’s national levels. Of the seven drivers, Ferrucci was the lone NASCAR neophyte in advance of this season.

While no concrete plans are in place for 2022, both driver and team have publicly stated their desires for a continued pairing.

Preston Pardus

Having championship bona fides at the grassroots levels of racing and a father who once competed in the Cup Series tends to work out well in a sport that’s far from a straightforward meritocracy. But Pardus, son of Dan, has yet to benefit from this seemingly tried-and-true path.

A national title-winner in the SCCA, the 24-year-old Pardus pounced on the Xfinity Series’ robust road course schedule in 2021 and took advantage given the resources at his disposal. Driving for independent owner Mario Gosselin, Pardus placed seventh on the Charlotte Roval, 14th at COTA and 16th at Road America before finishing 18th, and on the lead lap, in his maiden oval start at Martinsville.

Dating back to his efforts in 2020, which included an eighth-place finish at Road America, Pardus has secured five of the six best finishes for a team led by veteran crew chief Tony Furr.

Such result-getting is present in his PEER, a 1.625 mark ranked 10th and just below the 1.636 of Noah Gragson. Amazingly, Pardus pulled this off despite crashing once every two races and producing negative surplus passing values on the tracks he visited.

Whether he’s able to duplicate the rating — or expand on it, if he chooses to add ovals to next year’s curriculum — is a question worth asking. A positive answer could yield future opportunities and unearth a quality driver who developed outside of NASCAR’s traditional prospect ladder system.

Sage Karam

As a lark, Jordan Anderson Racing entered Karam, a part-time IndyCar driver and 2013 Indy Lights champion, into August’s race at Indianapolis. The result wasn’t ideal — he finished 26th after pulling off of the track with an electrical issue three laps from the finish — but his performance led to more chances.

Once hailed as “the new face of IndyCar racing” by The New York Times, the 26-year-old Karam competed in three more Xfinity Series races, two of them on ovals. He turned in a 52.16% adjusted pass efficiency (a top-20 clip) and ended his limited run with a pass differential nine spots beyond his statistical expectation. His 50% position retention rate across six non-preferred groove restarts was above average within the series, besting rates by Gragson, Burton and series champion Daniel Hemric.

To the team’s credit, Karam was slotted into two events containing practice sessions in the buildup, but to get up to speed in stock cars, more seat time will be required. Such a notion could result in a fun addition to the Xfinity Series and more permanent housing for a driver who’s had just two full seasons of racing across all motorsport disciplines in the last eight years.