By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
When the checkered-flag waved at the end of the A-GAME 200 at Dover Motor Speedway, it became evident Miles the Monster may have found his next kryptonite.
Ryan Truex stole the headlines after leading a race-high 124 laps and securing his first NASCAR national series victory, but it was second-place finisher Josh Berry who staked his claim as the next Delaware demon slayer.
Although not much of a factor up front, Berry ran around the back half of the top-10 all day and racked up seven stage points along the way. In the end, it was the No. 8 team led by Taylor Moyer who executed on the money stop with just over 30 to go and aided in a top-five day for the 32-year-old.
Berry crossed the finish line 4.8 seconds behind Truex for the win, but it was enough to secure the third runner-up finish for the winless JR Motorsports in 2023 through 10 races. The driver of the No. 8 also improved to fourth in the standings after adding to his NASCAR Xfinity Series-best in top-fives (five) and top-10s (eight).
“It was definitely a positive second half of the race for us,” Berry said. “ We had a good opening stage. [The] second stage we lost some spots on pit road and kind of got mired in traffic. It seems like the cars don’t work quite as well in traffic as they did last year. It’s just harder to pass.
“We fought back in the final stage, executed a good green-flag cycle, made good adjustments, came home second. I thought we were holding pace with the 19, but it seemed like he was probably the best car today.”
Since making the transition from the CARS Pro Late Model Tour to the NASCAR stock car ranks, Berry hasn’t placed lower than second in four starts with a 1.8 career average at the Monster Mile – making the Wurth 400 on Sunday that much more exciting.
Earlier in the week, it was announced Alex Bowman would be sidelined for three-to-four weeks after suffering a fractured vertebra while competing the High Limit Sprint Car Racing Series on April 25.
Berry, who already impressed in the Next Gen car while filling in for Chase Elliott with a fractured tibia this season, was an “easy plug in” for crew chief Blake Harris and the No. 48 team. In five starts, Berry scored two top-10s, including a runner-up finish at Richmond Raceway. His average finish filling-in in the No. 9 for Elliott was 17.2.
On top of Berry’s esteemed resume at Dover, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the success Hendrick Motorsports has had at the one-mile track – specifically the No. 48.
Sure, HMS has recent success at Dover winning the past two races there (most notably the top-four sweep in 2021), but the No. 48 became synonymous with Monster Mile for nearly two decades of torment from Jimmie Johnson and his all-time best 11 wins at the concrete track.
“This company has a great history of success here, and in the 48 car alone,” Harris said. “Statistically, [Berry’s] probably the best guy here. He’s only had a handful of races, but I don’t know that he’s finished worse than second anywhere here.
“He’s got a handful of Cup races, right? And we’re going to take the approach this weekend to kind of study as it goes, and let him get comfortable and up to speed. I think with his success and the history of the 48 and HMS altogether, I think all of those things are the best situation we could be in with what we’ve got.”
Although only a handful of Cup races under his belt, it’s reasonable to expect a highly competitive performance from Berry in the No. 48 at Dover.
In addition to his ability to adapt to new situations quickly, as well as proven results at the Monster Mile in his young stock car career, Berry actually had the best 10-lap average in the lone practice session of the weekend.
Not to mention, heading into the Wurth 400, he will have turned more laps than anyone in the field this weekend at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit, hot off the heels of yet another runner-up finish in the Xfinity Series.
“The way I look at it is, ultimately this is Alex’s race team and my job in this situation is to try to keep these guys going,” Berry said. “I think that was the mentality we took with the nine (car) and obviously they came back and hit the ground running.
“I think that shows a little bit of me in that moment of keeping the morale and everything up high, because obviously these guys are off to a great start this season and they’re going to be championship contenders throughout the year.
“My job is not to come here and win every race. My job is to adapt and do the best I can and just keep pulling everything in the right direction.”
Berry rolls off 23rd in the Wurth 400 at Dover, which is scheduled to air on Fox Sports 1 at 1 p.m. ET.