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June 21, 2023

Staying the course: Josh Berry’s journey from short tracks leads to NASCAR Cup Series and Stewart-Haas Racing

CONCORD, N.C. — A dreary Wednesday morning just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina served as one of the most gratifying days of Josh Berry’s life.

Years of learning, grinding and winning at short tracks along the East Coast finally paid off for Berry with the opportunity of a lifetime when Stewart-Haas Racing announced the 32-year-old from Hendersonville, Tennessee will replace Kevin Harvick as the driver of the No. 4 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series starting in 2024.

With Berry surrounded by Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Greg Zipadelli and Rodney Childers in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s media center, the rain outside could not put a damper on the mood as he relished the long-awaited chance to race full-time in the Cup Series.

“This is a really special day for me and a lot of people,” Berry said. “I have to thank everyone up here sitting with me for believing in me. It’s been a fun process over the past couple of months, and I can’t imagine a better opportunity for myself.

“If we do the right things and stay the course, the results will come.”

RELATED: Berry carrying the flag for grassroots racers in NASCAR

Joining Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cup Series program would not have been possible for Berry without the guidance of another accomplished driver in Dale Earnhardt Jr.

By the early 2010s, Berry and his family had exhausted most of their resources in Legends cars to the point where Berry was considering pulling out of racing altogether. As Berry kept his skills sharp on iRacing, he formed a friendship with Earnhardt, who offered a test in one of his Late Model Stock Cars.

What followed was one of the most efficient careers in Late Model Stock competition.

Berry quickly proved himself against the established veterans of the discipline, earning victories in crown-jewel events like the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway before claiming the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national championship in 2020.

Having made periodic starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports during that stretch, Berry became more actively involved in the series starting in 2021. He has carried over his consistency with five victories and a Championship 4 appearance last year.

Advance Auto Parts delivers the NASCAR Weekly Series national championship trophy to Josh Berry and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the JR Motorsports facility in Mooresville, N.C. on Nov. 17, 2020. (Reagen Lunn/NASCAR)

Berry admitted to slight disbelief over how his career has unfolded since the turn of the decade. There were many days before 2020 in which he believed his career terminus would be racing Late Model Stocks with JR Motorsports.

Despite this, Berry never viewed his circumstances with a negative outlook. He feels his extended time racing on short tracks has only prepared him more for the demands of competing in the Cup Series.

“When I was racing short tracks, all I was worried about was winning races, working hard and building fast race cars,” Berry said. “That was the goal, and I wasn’t really thinking about my future. I had accepted that I was going to be a full-time short track racer, but I didn’t think that was a negative thing.

“There are a lot of great short-track racers fully capable of racing on Saturdays and Sundays, and I feel like I represent those guys.”

Josh Berry and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
A major part of Josh Berry’s success stems from his friendship with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who he has driven for since the early 2010s. (Photo: Reagen Lunn/NASCAR)

While Berry fought for every win in Late Model Stock competition, Earnhardt worked diligently behind the scenes to ensure the young driver would be able to one day progress through NASCAR’s top ranks — even if it meant Berry would have to eventually depart JR Motorsports.

That day will arrive once the 2023 Xfinity Series season concludes. Although Wednesday’s press conference was bittersweet for the NASCAR Hall of Famer, Earnhardt was elated for his long-time driver. He’s eager to see how Berry performs with Stewart-Haas.

“It’s a big relief, because we’ve waited on this opportunity for Josh,” Earnhardt said. “It’s going to be a lot of work, and there will be a lot of challenges, but he’s going to have a lot of support, myself included.

“It’s a happy day for me, and it’s fun to watch Josh go through this, and it’s great for the sport to have stories like this.”

Stewart does not envision Berry having to go through much of a learning period once the 2024 season begins.

Replacing both Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports earlier this year gave Berry valuable track time in the Next Gen car, but Stewart stressed Berry’s versatility in Xfinity cars, Late Model Stocks and Super Late Models gives him an advantage compared to younger drivers currently progressing through the developmental ladder.

“You want somebody who has the capability and the mindset of understanding not only what it takes to get to the track and what happens at the shop, but also does the rest of things that it takes to be successful,” Stewart said. “You have to put yourself in a position to win races and championships.

“[Berry] has done that work and has made the most of every opportunity he’s had.”

Josh Berry and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With so many accomplishments to his name, Josh Berry is ready to take on the responsibilities of being a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver with Stewart-Haas Racing. (Photo: Adam Fenwick/NASCAR)

Like Stewart, Earnhardt is confident that once Berry gets acclimated to his environment at Stewart-Haas, he will thrive just like he did in Late Model Stocks for so many years.

Being in the Cup Series will require Berry to shoulder more responsibilities, particularly when it comes to building chemistry with his crew and teammates. Earnhardt watched Berry take on a mentorship role countless times with his Late Model Stock program and expects him to become an immediate leader within Stewart-Haas.

“For Josh, he has to use all the support around him,” Earnhardt said. “He has what I think is a Hall-of-Fame crew chief [in Rodney Childers], along with Kevin Harvick, who is a future Hall-of-Fame driver, as well as Greg Zipadelli and Tony Stewart. Josh has so many people who want to see him succeed, and he needs to lean into that.

“The most important role for Josh is to introduce himself to everybody and invest time with the team.”

Berry is ready to face the challenges of being a full-time Cup Series driver, but he also understands wins are not going to come easy. In his eight Cup starts this year, a second place at Richmond Raceway was Berry’s only top five.

Those results have done little to impact Berry’s overall mindset. Adversity never slowed him down when he was dominating Late Model Stock races, and he is only more determined to carry that efficiency into the Cup Series and prove himself as a perfect replacement for Harvick in the No. 4.

“[We] all know how tough Cup [Series] racing is,” Berry said. “I got the full experience with that this year, but I feel like we have the right pieces around us at Stewart-Haas and we can do the necessary things that will allow us to compete for wins in due time.”

Berry’s path to the Cup Series has been far from easy, but every positive and negative he endured on that journey has shaped him into a driver more than capable of racing alongside the best on Sundays.

While Wednesday was an enthralling moment for Berry, he knows more work still needs to be done for him to build upon his proud legacy in racing.