Sunday was an example of the Josh Berry Dilemma.
When a single driver has amassed over 100 wins during the past decade, that doesn’t leave many opportunities for anyone else to win in bulk. So, on one hand, it’s easy to play the What If Josh Berry Wasn’t Here game and treat a second place like a de facto win. On the other hand, the only way to become the man is beat the man, and Berry has become The Man in Late Model Stock racing.
In adding the Thanksgiving Classic to his personal resume on Sunday, Berry completed a decade in which he was the most dominant force in this discipline. The JR Motorsports Late Model Stock program has won the Martinsville 300, a Hampton Heat, a CARS Tour championship and the NASCAR Weekly Series championship with Berry behind the wheel.
The 31-year-old has been the standard in which to aspire towards or work to topple, and that standard will take on a new challenge next season as a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contender.
As has been the case for much of the past several years, the likes of Brenden Queen, Deac McCaskill and Justin Johnson had their chances to take a crown jewel from Berry on Sunday but just couldn’t make it happen.
Berry even spotted Queen the lead on a restart with 40 laps to go after spinning his tires and getting run into from behind. It ultimately made no difference as Berry just chased Queen back down and retook the lead five laps later. He drove away from the field and was left unchallenged.
"I spun the tires a little bit. I just didn't get it into gear clean. I messed up really. It doesn't happen often, I feel like."
He said that last part with a confident wry laugh.
Queen had led 42 of the first 50 laps, taking the first $1,500 stage bonus, and was gifted the lead in a moment that might make him wonder what if.
"Christmas came early when he missed the shift," Queen said. "Then the Grinch took it back. We had Mario trying to lay some shells behind us. I just didn’t have the drive Josh had. I got loose in. I’m not going to hang my head because we ran with one of the best in country.
"But I do wonder what if he wasn’t here, because we would have possibly won, but we want to beat him too. We want to build what they’ve built the past couple of years."
The 20th Thanksgiving Classic was a crash-filled affair, especially in the third and final stage, but mostly in the back of the field. The one major caveat was Justin Johnson spinning off the nose of Aaron Donnelly while racing for fourth. Terry Carroll and John Goin were also involved.
"You just had to take so much on these restarts, and give so little back, and I saw a hole that I probably shouldn't have tried to fill," Johnson said. "I could pick it apart, but I'm not mad about it. It's a racing thing.
"We probably didn’t have anything for Josh. What a remarkable run he’s had the past several years. I’m really happy for what he has the chance to do next year."
Even Doug Barnes Jr. needed to recover from a flat tire, one of a dozen crashes, all resulting in a lost lap, before ultimately delivering a podium to close out a month full of travel in which he’s raced in the top-five in many of the biggest races of the year.
"We bolted our left rear on, and Chase (Pistone) is pumping me up," Barnes said. "Then we get involved in a wreck. We have a good car and now we’re in the back. We made up a ton of positions and had some restarts go our way."
For Barnes, Queen and Johnson, there are no shortage of races to win next season now that Berry is off to race NASCAR. Barnes and Queen are targeting NASCAR Weekly Series championships. Johnson is aiming for a CARS Tour championship. They all would be favorites to win at Martinsville, Langley, South Boston, Florence and Kenly without Berry.
They beat The Man on occasion, but most nights looked like Sunday, with Berry celebrating with JR Motorsports in Victory Lane.
"I have really just enjoyed every part of this. This program has been my life. I obviously have a huge opportunity in front of me, but short track racing means so much to me. Any chance I’ve had to race with the guys have been special."
The program will continue on with Carson Kvapil behind the wheel of the JR Motorsports Late Model Stock, a huge opportunity for the second-generation youngster, but perhaps an opportunity for those who spent so much time chasing Berry on Sunday as well.
20TH THANKSGIVING CLASSIC
- Josh Berry
- Brenden Queen
- Doug Barnes
- Connor Hall
- Deac McCaskill
- Andrew Grady
- Jonathan Findley
- Stacy Puryear
- Chris Chapman
- Chase Burrow
- Blaine Perkins
- Trent Barnes
- Ryan Matthews
- Jody Measamer
- Aaron Donnelly
- Justin Johnson
- Logan Clark
- Connor Jones
- Terry Carroll
- John Goin
- Carter Langley
- Daniel Vuncannon
- Will Burns
- Clay Jones
- Cole Bruce
- Justin Carroll
- Jason Barnes
Stage 1 Win: Brenden Queen
Stage 2 Win: Josh Berry
Stage 3 Overall Winner: Josh Berry
Berry claimed $4,000 for the overall win, $3,000 for winning two combined segments, and another thousand for winning multiple segments. He earned $1,000 for winning the pole on Friday to win $9,000 over the weekend. Brenden Queen earned $1,500 for winning the first segment.