The NASCAR national series season may be over, but that doesn’t mean Josh Berry is slowing down.
On the contrary, the 33-year-old’s schedule is about to ramp up.
Berry, who will join Stewart-Haas Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series program in 2024 to pilot the No. 4 Ford Mustang following Kevin Harvick’s retirement, is scheduled to compete in three marquee Late Model Stock Car events over the next three weeks.
He’ll do so aboard the No. 62 Late Model Stock Car owned by Kevin Harvick and built by crew chief Rodney Childers. The car debuted earlier this year at North Wilkesboro Speedway with Harvick behind the wheel; it was later driven by 2022 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national champion Layne Riggs.
“Early on, the conversations with Kevin and Rodney and the No. 4 car and all that, we kind of always talked about doing this,” Berry said. “We had really, between us three, set out to do some races at the end of the year. Just kind of go racing together was really our plan.
“Kevin is restarting KHI with the Late Model program, and this is a way for me to be a part of that early on and build a relationship.”
Berry’s busy three-week schedule includes trips to Hickory Motor Speedway, Florence Motor Speedway and Southern National Motorsports Park, all venues at which he won during his lengthy tenure with JR Motorsports.
His first stop will be Hickory this Saturday, when he’ll compete in the annual 200-lap Fall Brawl. He’ll then head to Florence to compete in the South Carolina 400 before ending his stretch at Southern National for the Thanksgiving Classic.
Before even agreeing to run these events in Harvick’s Late Model, Berry said he called his former team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and JR Motorsports executive L.W. Miller to get their blessing.
“Point blank, I called Dale and L.W. and asked for permission to do it and made sure they were OK with it,” Berry said. “The last thing I wanted to do was rub anybody the wrong way. They were good with me going and doing this.
“I think that it’s just fun. I’ve been hanging around the shop some, working on the car some. It’s just fun to do that.”
Of the three tracks on his schedule this month, Hickory is the track with which Berry is most familiar. He won a track championship at Hickory in 2014 and is a four-time winner of the Fall Brawl.
Berry explained that Hickory wasn’t originally on the list of events he and the No. 62 team planned to enter this month, but they found themselves ready to race sooner than expected.
“Really we didn’t set out necessarily to go to Hickory,” Berry explained. “We went and tested, and it went really well. We kind of felt like we were to the point where to learn and to build and kind of continue our progress, we really felt like we were ready to race. That’s why we decided to go there.
“Obviously my experience at Hickory I think is really going to be of value. It’s really cool because Rodney is a past winner of the Fall Brawl, too. We’re excited to go do it.”
The South Carolina 400, scheduled for Nov. 18, presents a unique opportunity for Berry. The event will mark the first time Berry has raced a Late Model against Earnhardt. Previously, anytime Earnhardt would race a Late Model, Berry would step out of his race car to serve as Earnhardt’s crew chief.
Now the two, who have raced against each other a few times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in recent years, will share the track during a Late Model race for the first time.
Coincidently, the South Carolina 400 is one of the few Late Model Stock Car events that Berry has never won.
“Each time that (Earnhardt) raced, I assumed the responsibility of taking him racing,” Berry said. “When I said I had to ask for permission, I wanted to at least have that conversation with him. He understood where I was at.
“It’s going to be fun. I know (Dale is) excited. Dale and Kevin both, they have a ton of love for Late Model racing and short-track racing and want to support it. I’m excited to get there and do that. That’s actually a race that I haven’t won, so that would be fun to check that off.”
Last on the docket is the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National, which is scheduled for Nov. 26. Berry returns to the event as the two-time and defending winner after capturing the checkered flag in the last two editions of the race in 2021 and ’22.
Strangely enough, because of his success the last two years at Southern National, this is the race that brings Berry is the most nerves.
“With my time at JRM, we’ve won the last two Thanksgiving Classics, and we had phenomenal cars going there,” Berry said. “I know I’ve got my work cut out for me to match the success we had there.”
Berry hopes to put together three competitive runs aboard the No. 62 for Harvick and Childers as the group looks to rebuild Kevin Harvick Inc. from the ground up. However, the primary goal for the next three weeks is for Berry to return to his roots, go short-track racing and, most importantly, have fun.
Anything beyond that would be a wonderful bonus.
“Our expectations are to go enjoy it and get better each week,” said Berry, who added he hopes to run as many as six races in Harvick’s Late Model in 2024. “We’re going to Late Model race together a long time, I feel like, so I don’t necessarily feel like all three of these have to be home runs.”