HICKORY, N.C. (Aug. 5, 2019) – The magic that was the 2018 CARS Racing Tour Throwback 276 was not present on Saturday night for JR Motorsports drivers Josh Berry and Adam Lemke.
Last year, Berry led 110 of the 138 laps from the pole and notched the victory. Lemke’s counterpart later this season, Sam Mayer, rallied to seventh place after starting deep in the 29-car field. A repeat scenario greeted both JRM drivers when this year’s edition took the green flag on the .363-mile speedway in front of a jam-packed grandstand.
Berry, driving his No. 31 All Things Automotive throwback to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Gargoyles Chevrolet from 1997, was again on the pole and would lead the field to the green flag for the 138-lap feature. Lemke was 22nd on the grid at the green in his No. 98 Off-Axis Paint/JR Motorsports Chevrolet, two spots ahead of where Mayer started last year’s event.
For the first 10 laps, it looked as if the second part of the plan would play out the same. Berry surged to the lead on the initial green with second-starting Ryan Repko trailing behind, and it stayed that way for the first 10 laps until Repko got underneath Berry entering Turn 1 and took the lead. Caught on the high side, Berry dropped to fifth by lap 13 as Craig Moore and others used the path that Repko had blazed.
Lemke, meanwhile, was battling in the mid-pack and was up to 19th by that stage, staying out of trouble in the early going and looking to move up as the laps wound down.
Both drivers radioed soon after that their Chevrolets were on the loose side, and loose is one thing you don’t want to be at Hickory. At the lap-40 competition caution, Berry was sixth and Lemke 19th. By lap 44, Berry was still holding station and Lemke had moved to 16th, making the best of the handling conditions on both cars.
In a race short on caution flags, the next time the field slowed was on lap 80, the second competition caution. The CARS Racing Tour puts out the yellow flag after 40 laps of green-flag racing as part of its rules package. Berry was sixth and Lemke was 18th.
On that restart, Berry began to move forward, battling with Bobby McCarty and Layne Riggs for fourth over several laps. The battle raged for 10 laps until it settled out with Berry still sixth, though much closer to the leader. Lemke had surged to 16th at that point.
With 32 laps remaining, Berry took fifth place and pushed hard to move up, but was stalled out there as the loose condition did not improve. Lemke had run as high as 15th in that segment and was still moving forward, also battling a loose Chevrolet. With 11 laps to go, Sammy Smith began to move on Berry for fifth and wound up taking the spot with two laps to go. Lemke had pushed all the way to 13th by that point and that’s where he finished.
At the end of the race, Berry, the current CARS LMSC point leader, crossed the line in sixth position, behind Repko, Moore, McCarty, Riggs and Smith. Lemke finished 13th.
Next action for the JR Motorsports Late Model duo is Aug. 24 at Orange County Speedway, the penultimate round of the CARS Racing Tour Late Model Stock championship. The series finale is set for Nov. 2 at South Boston.
Adam Lemke, driver No. 98 Off-Axis Paint/JR Motorsports Chevrolet team
“The car was fast. It was a little loose the entire time. It was fast in clean air, but whenever I wanted to make a move on someone, I couldn’t get it to cut without getting too loose and I’d lose ground. The car was way better than what we showed tonight. If I had been farther up the order, I think I could have hung with those guys. Being where I was, I couldn’t get the car to commit in the middle of the corner to drive off. It was a great time and we had a decent finish.”