BRISTOL, Tenn. — Multiple sets of championship-contending teammates collided in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs opened Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
JR Motorsports housemates crashed in Turn 1 at Lap 167 after a flat right-front tire sent Josh Berry into Sam Mayer, eliminating both from the race. Brandon Jones, who missed the postseason by one spot in last week’s regular-season finale at Kansas Speedway, was just behind Berry and was collected in the melee before his vehicle’s eventual retirement.
Fifty laps later at Lap 217, Sheldon Creed contacted the left-rear quarter panel of Austin Hill, his teammate at Richard Childress Racing. That sent Hill spinning down the frontstretch, his No. 21 Chevrolet nosing into the inside wall before sliding back across the track into Turn 1.
The JRM collision erased three cars in one swoop, Berry’s flat tire the result of tight racing between the teammates. Tight, close-quarters racing led Berry’s right-front tire to rub against the left-side door of Mayer’s car, cutting the No. 8 Chevrolet’s tire and sending Berry into Mayer, the outside SAFER barrier and into the path of Jones, who had nowhere to go but under the rear of Berry’s car.
Mayer and Berry spoke briefly in the infield care center before speaking with reporters, allowing Berry to explain exactly what went wrong.
“I got to actually talk to Josh so I’m not gonna say anything stupid now,” Mayer said. “But obviously very frustrating and unfortunate way to end a solid day. We were getting better and better as we went. I think by the end of it, we were gonna be right there and able to make something happen. I don’t know if we had race-winning speed yet. We obviously didn’t survive long enough to tell but just unfortunate.
“Obviously, he said he cut a tire down so that’s just part of it. But I mean, racing that hard at the end of Stage 2 for no reason, I mean, it’s not really a veteran move in my opinion. But what do I know I guess?”
Mayer’s relationship with Berry dates back to his racing upbringing in late models, where Berry mentored Mayer through the years. That connection may help smooth over issues sooner than if they weren’t as close previously.
“I think because we have a relationship like that and we’ve known each other for so long, raced each other at different levels, I think that’s an excuse where I can be hard on him,” Mayer said. “And he can be hard on me. He’s been hard on me in the past and I’ve learned hard lessons because of it. And I think this isn’t really a lesson-learning accident; it’s just one of those deals that you’ve got to chalk up to unfortunate. I mean, I know Josh. He’s not malicious. So it’s not like he wanted to take all of us out of raw intent, but just unfortunate.”
Berry backed that up, noting the nature of racing around the high banks of Bristol.
“I mean, there’s no ill intent there, right?” Berry said. “I mean, we’re just racing. I was running the bottom. He’s running the top right. Like I said, without seeing if there was some prior contact or something that cut the tire down or what, right, but yeah, I didn’t just go in there and wipe him out.”
The team meeting at JRM will surely be tough, but so too will be that of RCR’s.
Creed washed up on corner exit of Turn 4 and simply clipped the left-rear corner of Hill’s car to send him sliding. Hill, the Regular Season Champion, declined to speak to the media after he was evaluated and released from the infield care center, but Creed explained what happened from his perspective.
“Obviously, it wasn’t my intention to come off the corner and get him in the left rear,” said Creed. “I didn’t think we were going to come together. I’d just seen the replay on a phone. I came up off the bottom onto the straightaway, but he also maybe had a couple feet to the wall. So I don’t know. It’s on me, right? I’m the one trying to make the pass and I’m the one on the bottom of the race track, so yeah, we’ll have to talk about it.
“He’s gonna be pissed. Austin doesn’t take things like this easy. So yeah, we’ll have to have a tough conversation and move forward.”
Creed said he and Hill are “really good friends” but understands that won’t ease the frustrations of a DNF in the opening race of the postseason.
“He’s gonna be mad and he should be,” Creed said. “It sucks to spin him like that.”
By night’s end, Hill remains fourth in points, 17 points above Creed for the final spot above the provisional elimination line. Creed indeed holds that eighth spot for the provisional Round of 8, with Mayer 10th (-10 points) and Berry 12th (-24).
The NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs continue at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and the NBC Sports App.