Josh Berry accomplished what he set out to do Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by completing all the laps in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 car. The only downside was that he wondered what more he could have accomplished after finishing 29th, two laps off the pace, while filling in for the injured Chase Elliott.
“It was eventful, honestly,” Berry told RACER. “A couple of things in the first two stages go a little bit better for us, and I think we’re able to stay on the lead lap. We had some good pace a lot of the time, especially when we had some reasonably clear track. We were pretty fast, for all things considered. There was still a lot to learn in those moments and in traffic.”
The first 80-lap stage went caution-free, and Berry was already behind the eight-ball having qualified 32nd for the Pennzoil 400. Without track position, and as he worked to get himself acclimated to his new surroundings in race conditions, he was put a lap down on lap 62. He never recovered, having missed the free pass position by one spot at the end of the stage.
“It was kind of the worst scenario for me, too,” Berry said. “We only had one or two cautions, and for my first run to go 80 laps green flag, that’s basically the worst-case scenario, and we were barely a lap down. We were trying so hard to get the lucky dog. We were really close there.”
The first two stages both went caution free. Joey Logano hitting the wall off Turn 4 and spinning through the grass on the frontstretch brought out the first natural caution on lap 183.
Berry did crack the top 25 at one point, and he also slapped the wall, but there was only so much ground he could make up, being two laps down with long green flag runs where more and more drivers got lapped. The day ended with only 18 drivers on the lead lap.
“Just learning the restarts,” Berry said of his contact with the wall. “I think there is still a lot to look at. I was up high, had a lot of momentum, and probably was just in…dirty air and lost the nose. But luckily everything was fine with that. These cars are pretty tough.”
Had it not been for a mechanical gremlin as the day wound down, he might have been able to mix it up a bit more. On pit road after the race, the Xfinity Series regular spent quite a bit of time debriefing with the No. 9 team about the race, and he also learned the car didn’t perform to its full potential.
“They were just telling me…we had an issue with the car there at the end that was kind of causing some issues with the throttle and the throttle body,” said Berry. “There were some times we were not getting a wide-open throttle, sometimes the throttle was hanging. It was messy there at the end, and I hate that reflects (in the finish) because I started to feel, at the end of the second stage, pretty comfortable.
“There at the end with that going on, I had a restart where it hung, and I almost washed up into the car on the outside of me. I had to just take it easy there at the end and finish.”
Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager Jeff Andrews praised Berry’s effort. Andrews said the company was really happy with his performance and that he did “an amazing job” given the circumstances. The call to drive didn’t come until late Friday.
A decision on who drives the car next weekend remains to be determined. Andrews anticipates a decision by late Monday before the haulers leave Tuesday for Phoenix Raceway.
“It was a great experience,” Berry concluded. “Honestly, I had a lot of fun and the more comfortable I got, the more I was racing with some great drivers… I got to do a lot of green flag pit stops, which was great. That will help me on Saturdays for sure, and no big mistakes.
“I just wish that we didn’t have that issue at the end because I think our finish would have been a little bit better than it was. But that’s racing. We survived. We’ll see what the future holds.”