Berry wins Xfinity Playoff opener at Las Vegas

On a night where the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs commenced, a non-title contender stole the show as Josh Berry outran teammate Justin Allgaier to win the Alsco Uniforms 302 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, September 25.

The victory was Berry’s second of his Xfinity Series career and in his 20th start of this season. The victory also occurred as Berry filled in the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro as a relief competitor for veteran Michael Annett.

The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Xfinity event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Xfinity race. With that, Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger, both of whom wrecked and battled for the win last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, started on the front row. 

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Cindric had Justin Haley pushing him on the outside lane while Allmendinger had Justin Allgaier pushing him on the inside lane through Turn 1. Through Turns 1 and 2, Cindric and Allmendinger battled dead even for the top spot until Cindric was able to clear Allmendinger in Turn 3 and lead the first lap.

Entering the second lap, Cindric was leading by two-tenths of a second over Allmendinger as the field fanned out to two lanes while battling for positions.

Through the first five laps of the event, Cindric continued to lead by four-tenths of a second over Allmendinger while Justin Haley, Justin Allgaier and rookie Ty Gibbs were in the top five. Harrison Burton was in sixth followed by Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson and Myatt Snider.

Five laps later, Cindric stabilized his advantage to over Allmendinger. Behind, Allgaier overtook Haley for third while Gibbs, Harrison Burton, Hemric, Gragson, Brandon Jones and Riley Herbst were scored in the top 10.

Another 10 laps later, Cindric stretched his advantage to nearly a second over Allmendinger. Teammates Gibbs and Hemric were up in third and fourth while Allgaier fell back to fifth.

When the competition caution flew on Lap 25, Cindric remained as the leader of the field. Under the competition caution, some led by Allgaier, who had concerns of oil leaking from his car, pitted while the rest led by Cindric remained on the track.

When the race restarted on Lap 30, Cindric and Allmendinger battled for the lead as the field fanned out to multiple lanes approaching the first turn. Just then, the caution returned for a multi-car wreck in Turn 1 that involved Joe Graaf Jr., Ty Dillon, Alex Labbe, Dylan Lupton, BJ McLeod, JJ Yeley, Brandon Brown, Bayley Currey and rookie Sam Mayer. Also involved were Playoff contenders Jeb Burton, Jeremy Clements and Riley Herbst, all of whom were eliminated from the race. At the time of caution, Allmendinger had managed to take the lead.

Following an extensive cleanup period, the race restarted under green on Lap 40 as Allmendinger and Cindric started on the front row. At the start, Allmendinger received a strong start on the outside lane to retain the lead while Cindric moved up to second. Through the backstretch, Hemric challenged teammate Gibbs for third while Harrison Burton and Gragson battled for fifth. Behind, Brett Moffitt moved up to seventh ahead of Ryan Sieg and Brandon Jones.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 45, Allmendinger earned his 10th stage victory of the season. Hemric made his way up to second followed by Cindric, Gibbs, Gragson, Harrison Burton, Sieg, Brandon Jones, Josh Berry and Moffitt. Meanwhile, Snider, Haley and Allgaier were in 11th, 12th and 14th.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Hemric emerged with the lead after beating Allmendinger off of pit road by a narrow margin. Back on the track, however, Ty Dillon and Brandon Brown moved up to first and second after both elected to remain on the track. During the pit stops, Gragson was sent to the rear for driving through multiple pit boxes while trying to enter his along with Sieg, who was penalized for an equipment interference

The second stage started on Lap 51. At the start, Ty Dillon jumped ahead with the lead followed by Hemric as the field fanned out to multiple lanes again through the first turn. Through the backstretch, Brandon Jones muscled his way to third place followed by teammate Harrison Burton and Allgaier, all of whom overtook Brown on fresh tires.

Three laps later, the caution flew when Sieg spun in Turn 2 as he collected Jade Buford. Under caution, Brandon Jones surrendered third place to pit due to a vibration on the right rear of his No. 19 Menards Toyota Supra. 

On Lap 59, the race restarted under green. At the start, Ty Dillon retained the lead followed by Allgaier and Harrison Burton while Hemric fell back to fifth in front of Cindric, Gibbs and Berry.

On Lap 65, the battle for the lead intensified was Allgaier closed in on Ty Dillon’s No. 31 South Point Chevrolet Camaro for the top spot. Behind, Harrison Burton was in third followed by Cindric, Gibbs and Hemric. Meanwhile, Gragson worked his way up to ninth ahead of Allmendinger, Haley, Brandon Jones and Myatt Snider.

A lap later, Allgaier motored his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro to the lead. 

By Lap 75, Allgaier continued to lead by more than a second over Ty Dillon while Cindric, Gibbs and Hemric were in the top five. Gragson was in sixth followed by Moffitt, Berry, Harrison Burton and Allmendinger while Haley, Brandon Jones and Snider were in 11th, 12th and 13th.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 90, Allgaier claimed his third stage victory of the season. Behind, Ty Dillon fended off Cindric to settle in second followed by Gragson, Hemric, Berry, Gibbs, Moffitt, Allmendinger and Haley.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Allgaier retained the lead followed by Cindric, Hemric, Gragson and Gibbs. Following the pit stops, Gragson was penalized again, this time for speeding on pit road. 

With 105 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Allgaier retained the lead ahead of Hemric, Cindric and the field as the track fell into night conditions. The following lap, Cindric and Allmendinger overtook Hemric’s No. 18 Poppy Bank Toyota Supra for spots in the top three

Down to the final 100 laps of the event, Allgaier was leading by half a second over Cindric while Allmendinger was in third. Hemric and Gibbs were in the top five followed by Berry, Haley, Snider, Moffitt and Brandon Jones.

Ten laps later, Allgaier continued to lead by more than a second over Cindric and by more than two seconds over Allmendinger. Behind, Gibbs and Berry moved up to fourth and fifth while Hemric settled in sixth ahead of Gragson. 

Another 10 laps later, the caution flew when a bump from Moffitt sent Haley and his No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet Camaro spinning in Turn 3. Under caution, the leaders returned to pit road and Allgaier retained the lead followed by Cindric, Gibbs, Allmendinger and Gragson.

With 76 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Allgaier retained the lead on the outside lane despite being challenged by Gibbs and Cindric. Behind, Cindric bolted his way to second while Gibbs retained third ahead of Allmendinger and Gragson. 

Six laps later, Allgaier stabilized his advantage to two-tenths of a second over Cindric. Meanwhile, Berry, Gibbs and Allmendinger battled for fifth ahead of Gragson. 

Another three laps later, Cindric powered his No. 22 Odyssey Battery Ford Mustang to the lead over Allgaier. By then, Allmendinger worked his way up to third. 

With 63 laps remaining, Allgaier reassumed the lead. Not long after, a battle for the runner-up spot between Cindric and Josh Berry occurred as Berry prevailed. During this battle, Gragson closed in on the top-three leaders followed by Allmendinger and Gibbs.

Down to the final 50 laps of the event, Allgaier was leading by nearly a second over teammate Berry while Cindric, Gragson and Gibbs were in the top five.  Allmendinger was in sixth followed by Hemric, Brandon Jones, Haley and Ty Dillon. Meanwhile, Harrison Burton was in 12th while Myatt Snider was back in 15th.

Nine laps later, Berry, who filled in as an interim competitor in JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet Camaro for veteran Michael Annett, made his way into the lead over teammate Allgaier.

With less than 30 laps remaining, Brandon Jones pitted under green. Soon after, Allgaier pitted along with Hemric, Gibbs, Ty Dillon, Moffitt, Gragson, Allmendinger. Berry, the leader, also pitted during this sequence. During the green flag pit stops, Gibbs was penalized for speeding his No. 54 Interstate Batteries Toyota Supra on pit road.

Under the final 20 laps, Haley, who had yet to pit, was leading followed by Snider, Allgaier, Berry and Gragson. Once Haley pitted, Allgaier, who overtook teammate Berry on the track, made his way back to the lead. Another two laps later, however, Berry reassumed the lead. 

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Berry was leading by more than three seconds over teammate Allgaier while teammate Gragson was in third, trailing by nearly nine seconds in his No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro. Cindric was up in fourth followed by Hemric and Brandon Jones while Allmendinger, Ty Dillon, Haley and Harrison Burton were in the top 10.

With five laps remaining, Berry stabilized his advantage to four seconds over teammate Allgaier while teammate Gragson trailed by nine seconds in third place.

When the white flag waved and the final laps started, Berry continued to lead by more than four seconds over teammate Allgaier. Following a smooth navigation around the circuit for a final time, Berry came back around and claimed the checkered flag for his first series win since Martinsville Speedway in April.

In addition to securing his second Xfinity Series career victory, Berry became the first non-Playoff contender to win the Playoff opening race since Tyler Reddick made the last accomplishment at Kentucky Speedway in September 2017. Berry also recorded the 57th Xfinity career victory for JR Motorsports and the first win for JRM’s No. 1 team since Daytona International Speedway in February 2019.

“Oh my gosh,” Berry, who led 38 laps, said on NBCSN. “This [car] was fast. It just took me a while to figure it out. I knew the race would go down to the bottom at the end, I felt like. I just wanted to really work hard, make sure my car ran good on the bottom [lane] and I just had to stay disciplined and keep working on it. [The No. 1 crew] made the right adjustments. I knew it was fast. Just finally got a long run, put everything together and I was able to do it.”

“Me and Justin [Allgaier] have raced together a lot this year,” Berry added. “Most of them, he’s got the better of me. Today, we were able to get one. This is cool. This moves the No. 1 car to the next round in the owner’s points. That was really important for this group. They’ve worked so hard, they’ve been through so much and they deserve this. I wanna say hey to Michael [Annett] at home and thank him and his group for trusting me in driving this race car…One, two three finish [for JR Motorsports], that’s pretty cool.”

With teammates Allgaier and Gragson finished second and third, JR Motorsports achieved its first 1-2-3 finish in NASCAR history.

Allgaier was the highest-finishing Xfinity drivers’ title contender in second place on the track while teammate Gragson rallied from his pair of pit road penalties to settle in third place at his home track. With the results, Allgaier is ranked in third place in the Playoff standings, 38 points above the top-eight cutline, while Gragson is in fourth place in the standings, 37 points above the cutline.

“It’s super tough,” Allgaier, who led a race-high 90 laps, said. “First of off, hats off to Josh and the No. 1 team. They, obviously, had a lot of adversity this year, so for them to come home with a victory was really cool. Just proud of our guys, everybody on this No. 7 team. I was disappointed in the middle of the race there. We felt like we were really good and then as the sun went down, we just needed a little bit more right-rear grip. That’s where I feel like [Berry] had us beat. We’ll rebound, we’ll go next week to Talladega. [We] Should’ve gotten some decent points tonight and hopefully, have a good week next week.”

“I’m really frustrated, but I think the Bass Pro Shops No. 9 team and everybody at JR Motorsports should be really frustrated with me,” Gragson said. “Just ’cause it’s two weeks in a row and I need to get better. [The crew] brought an unbelievable race car to the track. I’m happy, happy for Josh, happy for Justin, happy everybody at JR Motorsports. Wish we could’ve beaten the guy…We’ll go on to Talladega, hopefully don’t get in a wreck, knock on wood and can transfer to the next stage.”

Austin Cindric, the pole-sitter who led 33 laps, finished fourth and he leads the Xfinity Playoffs by four points over AJ Allmendinger, the 2021 Xfinity Series regular season champion, while Hemric, who was announced as a Kaulig Racing competitor for the 2022 Xfinity Series season, finished fifth and is in fifth place in the Playoff standings, 34 points above the cutline.

Brandon Jones, AJ Allmendinger, Ty Dillon, Justin Haley and Harrison Burton finished in the top 10 on the track.

There were 13 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 32 laps.

Results.

1. Josh Berry, 38 laps led

2. Justin Allgaier, 90 laps led, Stage 2 winner

3. Noah Gragson, one lap led

4. Austin Cindric, 33 laps led

5. Daniel Hemric

6. Brandon Jones

7. AJ Allmendinger, 20 laps led, Stage 1 winner

8. Ty Dillon, 17 laps led

9. Justin Haley, two laps led

10. Harrison Burton

11. Ty Gibbs, one lap down

12. Brett Moffitt, one lap down

13. Bayley Currey, one lap down 

14. Tommy Joe Martins, one lap down

15. Myatt Snider, one lap down

16. Landon Cassill, one lap down

17. Ryan Sieg, two laps down

18. Kyle Weatherman, two laps down

19. Ryan Vargas, two laps down

20. Blaine Perkins, three laps down

21. David Starr, four laps down

22. Brandon Brown, four laps down

23. Mason Massey, four laps down

24. Josh Williams, five laps down

25. Spencer Boyd, five laps down

26. Jade Buford, six laps down

27. Matt Jaskol, six laps down

28. Matt Mills, seven laps down

29. Jeffrey Earnhardt, seven laps down

30. BJ McLeod, eight laps down

31. Carson Ware – OUT, Electrical

32. CJ McLaughlin – OUT, Overheating

33. Riley Herbst – OUT, Accident

34. Sam Mayer – OUT, Accident

35. Dylan Lupton – OUT, Accident

36. Jeb Burton – OUT, AAccident

37. JJ Yeley – OUT, Accident

38. Alex Labbe – OUT, Accident

39. Jeremy Clements – OUT, Accident

40. Joe Graf Jr. – OUT, Accident

Bold indicates Playoff contenders.

Playoff standings.

1. Austin Cindric, +66

2. AJ Allmendinger, +59

3. Justin Allgaier, +38

4. Noah Gragson, +37

5. Daniel Hemric, +34

6. Justin Haley, +17

7. Harrison Burton, +13

8. Brandon Jones, +10

9. Myatt Snider, -10

10. Jeb Burton, -27

11. Riley Herbst, -32

12. Jeremy Clements, -36

With the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs underway, the series will next travel to Talladega Superspeedway for the second Round of 12 event of the season. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, October 2, at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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