CONCORD, N.C. – Josh Berry is officially set to become a NASCAR Cup Series driver.
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that Berry will drive the No. 4 Ford for the organization beginning in 2024, replacing the retiring 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick. Crew chief Rodney Childers will remain atop the pit box for the No. 4 team as Berry officially joins the Cup Series.
“Obviously this is a really special day for me and special for a lot of people,” Berry said Wednesday. “First off, I have to thank everybody sitting up here with me for believing in me and, bringing me here to this. This is such a special day and it’s been a … fun process over the last couple of months getting to know these guys and working with them, and I can’t imagine a better opportunity for myself than to be full-time Cup racing with Stewart-Haas and headed for the No. 4 car.”
Berry found himself front and center of the stage in the Charlotte media center, flanked to his right by SHR chief competition officer Greg Zipadelli and team co-owner Tony Stewart and to his left by Harvick and Childers. In the crowd sat Dale Earnhardt Jr., co-owner of Xfinity Series team JR Motorsports and the kick-starter behind Berry’s racing career.
The belief behind him has been palpable for years. Wednesday provided the clearest example of that belief yet.
“It really means a lot to have the support that I’ve had,” Berry said. “Obviously, to get to this point, I knew that everybody at SHR and this group beside me believes in me and what I bring to the table. Like I’ve said, it’s going to be a great challenge trying to fill the job that Kevin’s done over the years. I mean, he’s a future Hall-of-Famer and has won countless races, a championship and I’ve been watching the races this year – these guys have been running really well from what I’ve been seeing. So it’s really encouraging for me and exciting to know that I’m gonna get such a great group around me. I intend to do everything I can to try to keep that group together and excited to work with me.
“I know that I’ll have some great support with Tony, Kevin and Dale as well as I transition to a full-time Cup driver. It’s all great. Like I said, I really can’t imagine myself going to a better opportunity.”
The 32-year-old native of Hendersonville, Tennessee, was an immediate candidate of interest for Harvick, Childers and SHR as Harvick planned his retirement. As the organization planned its next steps, it was clear Berry was its guy.
“We literally put all of our eggs in one basket, and we put them on this kid to my left here with Josh Berry,” Stewart said. “He’s somebody that we all feel like is the right fit to step into the No. 4 car in the future and we’re all super excited to have him at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Harvick, whose resume boasts 60 Cup wins, two Xfinity championships and two Craftsman Truck Series titles as an owner, now co-owns the CARS Late Model Stock Tour with Earnhardt, Jeff Burton and Justin Marks. That connection to Earnhardt – among plenty other ties – led Harvick to picking up the phone for a conversation about Berry.
“That’s really how this started,” Harvick said. “I just called Dale and I said, ‘Hey, would it be OK to have a conversation with Josh about possibly driving the No. 4 car, and that’s really how this started. So once that happened, and it was OK to just have some conversations, then (I) delivered that message to the team and everybody started talking about things and here we are today.”
Earnhardt recalled the conversation vividly, eager to see a door to the Cup Series crack open for Berry, who he met via iRacing some 15 years ago and guided to JRM’s late-model program just two years later.
“I told him (Harvick) that Josh was open to discuss any opportunities with anybody and that he would be thrilled and humbled to be considered for a replacement at Stewart-Haas in any car,” Earnhardt said. “I also introduced the idea that Josh didn’t have any formal representation as he progressed into whatever opportunities he had for the Cup Series.”
Earnhardt, a NASCAR Hall-of-Fame driver and car owner, pointed to Harvick’s agency – KHI Management – which could help Berry land a ride even if the door closed on at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It (the call) was just about, ‘Yeah, get to know Josh. Why don’t you guys to know him better?'” Earnhardt said. “And they had a lot of meetings with Josh before the season even started. And so we just kind of waited around for them to finally make that decision if that was what they wanted to do.”
Berry’s first inkling of SHR’s interest came in January, when Harvick approached him on media day. From there, conversations continued with SHR’s chief commercial officer Brian McKinley as well as Stewart and Zipadelli.
Stewart emphasized Wednesday Berry earned consideration based on merit, adding sponsorship remains “totally open” on the No. 4 car in 2024.
“I am not interested in some kid’s father coming and buying their way into the Cup Series. I have zero interest in that,” Stewart said. “We want guys that earn their way, that work hard, that understand the values that it takes to be a top-tier driver – not one that just got his high school diploma and now all the sudden he’s a Cup driver. I’ve got zero interest in that. Josh has put the time, the effort, and every time he’s got an opportunity, he’s made the most of it. Those are the traits that championship drivers are built off of, not the easy ticket to get there.”
NASCAR ROOTS: How grinding through grassroots led Berry to Cup
As conversations progressed through the winter and spring, it became clearer to Berry the ride was his if he wanted it.
“From our side of things, there really was never a question that this was not a great opportunity for me,” Berry said. “Dale was fully supportive and he said himself he thought this was best-case scenario for me and for all this. He’s been there every step of the way.”
Indeed, Earnhardt has been there since the beginning, watching Berry flourish as a racer but never getting a true shot in NASCAR’s national touring series until timing allowed he and JRM to get Berry into the team’s No. 8 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for a partial schedule in 2021 – a ride in which Berry was able to triumph at Martinsville Speedway before winning again as a substitute driver in JRM’s No. 1 car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway later that season.
The pride Earnhardt takes in seeing Berry earn a championship-caliber ride in the top level of stock-car racing was evident Wednesday.
“It’s a big relief because we’ve been waiting on this opportunity for Josh,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a big relief any time you can help anybody achieve a goal like that. I’m just looking forward to getting into this next season and him getting behind the wheel and starting to work. It’s going to be a lot of work. It’s going to be tough. There will be some challenges and he’ll have a lot of help and support – myself included – just to navigate all that.
“But it’s a good relief. It’s a happy, happy day for me. It’s fun to watch Josh go through this and realize a dream. It’s a great moment for the sport to have stories like this developing, and now we’ve got to sit and wait. Everybody’s got to go back to work, right? I told Josh, ‘Listen, man, this day’s going to be a big day. Let it all sink in. Absorb it all. Because as soon as this day’s over, you’ll wake up tomorrow and it’s back to the Xfinity Series.'”