By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
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 claiming an impressive 4.396-second victory in the Playoff 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 Playoff 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 Playoff 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, adding, “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.
“It was tough,” Berry said smiling. “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 Playoff 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 Gibbs, who joined Berry as the only two non-Playoff drivers among the Top-10 finished eighth. Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate Justin Hailey was ninth and JGR’s Harrison Burton 10th. Playoff driver Myatt Snider finished 15th, the last Playoff 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 the Stage 2.
Berry took the lead from Allgaier with 42 laps remaining, relinquishing it only during final late race pit stops. He re-took 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.
“We have really fast race cars at Junior Motorsports and everyone is super proud.”
A handful of Playoff 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] one 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 Playoff 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. Justin Haley is the defending Playoff race winner.