ROUGEMONT, N.C. – Even though he’s now racing part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, make no mistake, Josh Berry is still one of the best ever behind the wheel of a pavement late model.
Berry proved his prowess Sunday at Orange County Speedway by withstanding a persistent attack from Deac McCaskill during the Puryear Tank Lines Old North State Nationals, pulling away in the final laps for the $30,000 payday.
The reigning NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion took the top spot under caution on lap 46, when leader Deac McCaskill brought most of the field in for pit service, and controlled the race from that point on.
Berry led the final 154 laps in succession for his first CARS Late Model Stock Tour win of the season and the 20th of his career in 52 series starts, extending his all-time series record.
It was Berry’s third CARS Tour win at the semi-banked, three-eighths-mile Orange County oval and his second straight Old North State Nationals victory in as many editions of the crown jewel event.
Berry won the 2020 edition of the event last October when it was relocated to Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Sunday, he admitted, was just as sweet.
“You always like to win the big ones, and this has become a really big [race],” Berry said. “I knew this would be tough, coming here for this one, especially with not having a lot of time to prepare for this. It feels really good to get this one done, because it wasn’t our best car and we still pulled it off.”
Berry was among a handful of drivers who pitted on lap 23 during the first caution period of the day, brought out by a spinning Conner Jones.
That decision allowed him to stay out during the lap-46 yellow for the stalled machine of second-running Justin Johnson, affording Berry the track position that he would then hold for the duration of the race.
Despite that, however, Berry admitted that his No. 8 Chevrolet wasn’t as good as he would have liked it to be during the second half of Sunday’s 200-lap feature, allowing McCaskill to close in late in the going.
“When we started off, I really wasn’t that happy with the race car,” Berry admitted. “It was loose early and really didn’t turn through the middle [of the corner] all that well. I wanted the guys to make some adjustments pretty early on, but I also knew track position was going to be important since it’s so hard to pass here. When we cycled back to the front, I finally felt a little bit better about things.
“Man, we were good enough [to win], but not by much. Luckily, it worked out.”
McCaskill had several opportunities to take a shot at Berry for the lead during the final 75 laps, but a competition caution at lap 143 following 50 consecutive green-flag laps stifled McCaskill’s momentum.
He had just gotten alongside Berry on the bottom lane before the yellow flag waved coming off the second turn. After that, McCaskill could never mount a strong enough charge again to contend.
“This is the fastest car I’ve ever had here at this race track,” McCaskill said. “It’s tough to not bring home that $30,000 … but I knew it was going to be tough to get back by Josh. I almost got in front of him before that last competition caution, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time.”
McCaskill’s final charge inside of five to go fell .321 seconds short at the checkered flag.
The battle between Berry and McCaskill – a largely clean one throughout the race – characterized the deep respect that both late model stock car veterans carry for one another, both on and off the track.
“I’ve raced with Deac a lot,” Berry noted. “He’s pretty clean, but we were just good enough off the corner that Deac had to tuck back in line even when he would pull even with us. I was able to drive my car in really hard and slide it up [the track] and that made it hard for him to knock me out of the way.”
Tyler Matthews used pit strategy to post a third-place finish, followed by defending series champion Jared Fryar and super late model ace Stephen Nasse, who made his first CARS Late Model Stock Tour start Sunday as a part of Jamie Yelton’s Fathead Racing operation.
Bobby McCarty, Bubba Pollard, Trevor Noles, Sam Yarbrough and Kaden Honeycutt closed the top 10.
Berry’s march to victory Sunday came one day after a disappointing Xfinity Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where a cut tire and rain-shortened finish left him 31st in the Ag Pro 300.
Sunday “didn’t take all the sting away” for Berry, but it did leave him with a big smile in victory lane.
“It definitely makes it a lot easier [to bounce back],” Berry tipped. “I never take any of these for granted because racing is tough. It means a lot to win.
“Today, we had a good car and called the best strategy.”
1. 8-Josh Berry, 2. 08-Deac McCaskill, 3. 41-Tyler Matthews, 4. 14-Jared Fryar, 5. 51-Stephen Nasse, 6. 22-Bobby McCarty, 7. 26-Bubba Pollard, 8. 2t-Trevor Noles, 9. 95-Sam Yarbrough, 10. 4h-Kaden Honeycutt, 11. 2-Brandon Pierce, 12. 97-Daniel Silvestri, 13. 81-Mini Tyrrell, 14. 14j-Conner Jones, 15. 01-Camden Guillie, 16. 74-Ronald Hill, 17. 88-William Cox III, 18. 19-Jessica Cann, 19. 87-Mike Looney, 20. 2n-Sammy Smith, 21. 99-Layne Riggs, 22. 24-Mason Diaz, 23. 91-Jonathan Shafer, 24. 4-Jonathan Findley, 25. 44-Justin Johnson, 26. 17-Joe Valento, 27. 1-Craig Moore, 28. 81b-Sam Butler.
Lap Leader(s): Justin Johnson 1-3, Deac McCaskill 4-20, Justin Johnson 21-31, Deac McCaskill 32-46, Josh Berry 47-200.