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Josh Berry steals spotlight in Xfinity Series Playoffs opener

May 8, 2021; Darlington, SC, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry looks on prior to the Steakhouse Elite 200 at Darlington Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
May 8, 2021; Darlington, SC, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry looks on prior to the Steakhouse Elite 200 at Darlington Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — Josh Berry seized opportunity and drove away from the competition Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Tabbed to substitute for injured JR Motorsports driver Michael Annett, the Tennessee late model champion Berry earned his second win of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season with an impressive 4.396-second victory in the Playoffs opener.

Berry, 30, led a 1-2-3 JR Motorsports team sweep in the Alsco Uniforms 302 — besting his teammates Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson, whose second and third place finishes were tops among the 12 Playoffs-eligible drivers.

It was the second consecutive night one team showed the way up front at the Vegas 1.5-miler. On Friday, the ThorSport Racing team swept the top four positions in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs race.

Berry’s win proves himself versatile and up for the challenge. He won at the Martinsville, Va., short track earlier this year in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet that he will drive fulltime next year. He matched that standard Saturday in the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. And he drove four other races this season in the No. 31 Chevrolet for team owner Jordan Anderson.

“Oh my gosh, that thing was so fast, it just took me a while to figure out,” Berry said. “I just had to stay disciplined and keep working on it and the guys made the right adjustments. And it was fast, man. Finally got a long run and got it all together.”

As for racing his teammates, who are fighting for the championship, Berry said, “It was tough. Me and Justin raced together a lot this year and most of them, he’s gotten the better of me. Today we were able to get one. This is cool.”

Eight of the 12 Xfinity Series Playoffs drivers finished among the top 10, including championship leader, Penske Racing’s Austin Cindric in fourth and Joe Gibbs Racings drivers Daniel Hemric and Brandon Jones in fifth and sixth.

Regular-season champion A.J. Allmendinger, who won Stage 1 for a season best 10th stage win — was seventh. Ty Dillon finished eighth. Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate Justin Haiey was ninth and JGR’s Harrison Burton 10th. Myatt Snider finished 15th, the last Playoffs driver running at the end of the race.

The sweep up front was indicative of the evening as the JR Motorsports teammates paced the field all night. Allgaier led a race best 90 laps and won Stage 2.

Berry took the lead from Allgaier with 42 laps remaining, relinquishing it only during final late-race pit stops. He retook the position with 17 laps and drove away for the victory.

Gragson’s third-place finish was remarkable considering the Las Vegas native was penalized twice on pit road and still drove through the field multiple times.

“I need to be better, and they brought an unbelievable race car to the track and I’m happy for Josh and happy for everyone at Junior Motorsports, just wish we could have been the guy,” said Gragson. “We have really fast race cars at Junior Motorsports, and everyone is super proud.”

A handful of Playoffs drivers were on the other end of fortune Saturday with Riley Herbst, Jeb Burton and Jeremy Clements all having their race cut short because of a 12-car accident on the restart following the Competition Caution period.

“I don’t really think we need to be four-wide getting into (Turn) 1 on Lap 26,” Burton said. “Nothing we could do there, frustrating. We needed a good run today, but we’ll go to Talladega next week and win a race.

“Won there earlier in the year and almost won Daytona a couple weeks ago, so I know I can go do it. Have the best team in the garage at speedway tracks, so we’ll go get it done next week and then go to the ROVAL.”

With his fourth-place finish at Vegas, Cindric takes a seven-point lead over Allmendinger in the Playoffs standings. Allgaier is 28 points back, followed by Gragson (-29) and Hemric (-32).

Round 2 of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, the Sparks 300 at Talladega, takes place next Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) on the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. Jeb Burton won at Talladega this spring. Haley is the defending Playoffs race winner.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race — Fourth Annual Alsco Uniforms 302
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Las Vegas, Nevada
Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021

1. (15) Josh Berry #, Chevrolet, 201.
2. (3) Justin Allgaier (P), Chevrolet, 201.
3. (9) Noah Gragson (P), Chevrolet, 201.
4. (1) Austin Cindric (P), Ford, 201.
5. (7) Daniel Hemric (P), Toyota, 201.
6. (8) Brandon Jones (P), Toyota, 201.
7. (2) AJ Allmendinger (P), Chevrolet, 201.
8. (28) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 201.
9. (4) Justin Haley (P), Chevrolet, 201.
10. (5) Harrison Burton (P), Toyota, 201.
11. (6) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 200.
12. (27) Brett Moffitt, Chevrolet, 200.
13. (36) Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, 200.
14. (19) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 200.
15. (12) Myatt Snider (P), Chevrolet, 200.
16. (37) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 200.
17. (20) Ryan Sieg, Ford, 199.
18. (26) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 199.
19. (31) Ryan Vargas #, Chevrolet, 199.
20. (24) Blaine Perkins, Chevrolet, 198.
21. (38) David Starr, Toyota, 197.
22. (16) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 197.
23. (30) Mason Massey, Toyota, 197.
24. (18) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 196.
25. (32) Spencer Boyd(i), Chevrolet, 196.
26. (23) Jade Buford #, Chevrolet, 195.
27. (34) Matt Jaskol, Toyota, 195.
28. (29) Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 194.
29. (22) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 194.
30. (39) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 193.
31. (35) Carson Ware, Toyota, Electrical, 113.
32. (40) CJ McLaughlin, Chevrolet, Overheating, 100.
33. (10) Riley Herbst (P), Ford, Accident, 31.
34. (11) Sam Mayer #, Chevrolet, Accident, 31.
35. (25) Dylan Lupton(i), Toyota, Accident, 31.
36. (14) Jeb Burton (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 30.
37. (33) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Accident, 30.
38. (17) Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, Accident, 30.
39. (13) Jeremy Clements (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 30.
40. (21) Joe Graf Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 30.

Average speed of race winner: 123.509 mph
Time of race: 2 hours, 26 min., 28 sec.; margin of victory: 4.398 seconds
Caution flags: six for 32 laps
Lead changes: 13 among seven drivers

Lap leaders: A. Cindric (P) 1-29;A. Allmendinger (P) 30-48;T. Dillon 49-65;J. Allgaier (P) 66-92;N. Gragson (P) 93;J. Allgaier (P) 94-121;A. Allmendinger (P) 122;J. Allgaier (P) 123-133;A. Cindric (P) 134-137;J. Allgaier (P) 138-159;J. Berry # 160-180;J. Haley (P) 181-182;J. Allgaier (P) 183-184;J. Berry # 185-201.
Leaders summary (driver, times lead, laps led): Justin Allgaier (P) five times for 90 laps; Josh Berry # two times for 38 laps; Austin Cindric (P) two times for 33 laps; AJ Allmendinger (P) two times for 20 laps; Ty Dillon one time for 17 laps; Justin Haley (P) one time for two laps; Noah Gragson (P) one time for one lap.

Stage 1 Top 10: 16, 18, 22, 54, 9, 20, 39, 19, 1, 02
Stage 2 Top 10: 7, 31, 22, 9, 18, 1, 54, 02, 16, 11

–By Holly Cain NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.