Tuesday June 18th, 2024 11:45PM

NASCAR teams, drivers will celebrate the sports' roots at Darlington Raceway

By Pete Iacobelli AP Sports Writer

Josh Berry's path to the NASCAR Cup Series was filled with missteps and doubts he'd ever make it to the sport's premiere level.

Berry, who took over the Stewart-Haas No. 4 seat previously occupied by NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick, spent a decade or so sweating it out at small, tight tracks like nearby Florence and Dillon speedways learning from anyone he could how to succeed at stock car racing's highest level.

“I'm not going to lie, there were plenty of days that I'd never thought I'd make it to NASCAR's top two series,” said Berry, 33. “But I was lucky enough to get an opportunity and make the most of it. Now, here I am Cup racing.”

Berry and NASCAR's best are at Darlington Raceway for the latest nod to the sport's history at its 10th throwback weekend.

The Goodyear 400, the halfway point of NASCAR's 26-race regular season, takes place Sunday. Darlington, the circuit's oldest superspeedway that first held a race in 1950, has turned its spring weekend into a celebration of its past.

This time, the theme is NASCAR’s grass roots, where racers and teams honor the bullrings, dirt tracks and layouts where drivers, crew chiefs and pit personnel first learned about racing.

“That's what drives our sport,” Kyle Busch said Friday. “There's obviously a dream that these younger guys and gals have to make it to the top. They want to get there one day and they come from the grass-roots level.”

Berry's car will feature a paint scheme modeled after crew chief Rodney Childers' success as a late model driver in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Berry and Childers unveiled the car last month during a visit to the South Carolina's Governor's Mansion, and when Childers realized his own throwback, he said he had to choke back the tears.

“That 1998 year was probably one of the biggest turning points of my (driving) career,” Childers recalled.

Longtime racer Ron Barfield, now owner of Dillon Motor Speedway in South Carolina, about 40 miles from Darlington, believes that on-track experience is essential to success at any level. He appreciates the time young racers spend utilizing simulators and other modern tools, but it's hard to learn competing under pressure without cutting your teeth at small tracks.

“Nothing can take the place of going racing," he said.

Busch, a two-time NASCAR champion, agrees. His son, Brexton, who'll turn 9 later this month, is learning how to race in running junior sprint cars, outlaw karts and Bandoleros.

The elder Busch has had a blast watching his son compete at the youngest, coach's pitch-type levels of the sport.

“That's been fun to see,” he said.

Chase Briscoe, Berry's Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, will run a No. 14 car tribute to Briscoe's father Kevin that he used during a 20-year career that included more than 200 feature wins. The elder Briscoe won the 1993 track title at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Indiana, and five championships at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway.

“Growing up, I probably took for granted how good he was,” Briscoe said. “I just thought it was normal, when you went to the racetrack that your dad was going to win the race.”

Cole Custer, who won the Xfinity Series last year, recalled when he first got behind the wheel at 5 years old, all he wanted to do was race around, no matter where he finished. It wasn't until he became a teenager that his focus and ambition changed and the drive that led him to a title kicked in.

“As a kid, I'd never thought I'd be a NASCAR champion,” said Custer, 26. “To have that title is huge and, hopefully, we can just keep that momentum.”

Berry, Harvick's No. 4 replacement, is steadily learning his way as a full-time Cup Series driver. He finished 11th at Richmond on March 31, his best showing for Stewart-Haas so far.

“I knew it was going to be difficult,” he said. “This is top level of NASCAR racing. But we've seen a lot of improvement. We've had really fast cars, we've been qualifying better, racing better, now we've just got to put everything together.”

  • Associated Categories: Sports, NASCAR News, NASCAR Cup, Top Sports Stories
  • Associated Tags: nascar, NASCAR Cup Series
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