Josh Berry 1-on-1: Joining Stewart-Haas Racing, filling in for Chase Elliott and more

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stewart-Haas Racing formally announced Josh Berry as the driver of its No. 4 car starting in 2024 as Kevin Harvick will retire at the end of the of 2023 season.

Berry sat down with FOX Sports after the announcement Wednesday to discuss his unique path to a Cup ride as he made his first Xfinity start nine years ago for JR Motorsports.

Here is the conversation, with some editing for clarity and space:

Your day started off at JR Motorsports and you addressed the organization there and then you go to be introduced at your future home, Stewart-Haas Racing, where you will drive the No. 4 car starting in 2024. What’s the emotion of today been like?

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It’s been just an amazing day. So exciting. It’s been I feel like a little bit long time coming just waiting for this day to come. It started off a little emotional going to JR Motorsports and talking with Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] and Kelly [Earnhardt Miller] and L.W. [Miller] and everybody at the company and after a lot of great memories, I’d be moving on to the Cup Series. I’m definitely excited about 2024 and to have the opportunity in front of me to join Stewart-Haas Racing and drive the 4 car, it’s a best-case scenario for a guy like me.

I don’t think anybody was surprised at either place about the news. But was there anything unexpected from an emotional sense?

I don’t think so. I expected at JR Motorsports that part of it would be the most emotional part of my day just after the length of time that I’ve been there. I spent a lot of years of my life being a part of JR Motorsports. I knew that was going to be an emotional time. But it was exciting going to Stewart-Haas and meeting the company there and then obviously going to announce this deal. So it’s just been an awesome day. It’s a day I’ll remember for a long time.

About 14 or 15 years ago, you sent in-car camera footage of you driving a legends car (a small car that young people use to learn about racing) to Dale Jr. Did the kid who sent that footage ever think he’d be in this position today?

No. That kid, honestly, didn’t have very many expectations of a lot of the conversations that Dale and I had. We just struck up a friendship and just built a relationship there early on, and I think some of the influence that [those conversations] had on him — ultimately, he asked me to test his late model car and I was ecstatic at that. So to me, that was the top of the top right there, getting to drive a stock car. At that point in my career, I was racing a legend car at the Nashville Fairgrounds and really never thought that I would ever race a late model or anything like that. So to get to do that, it was a huge opportunity.

Dale Jr. said today that after your 2015 Xfinity race at Richmond, he thought that was the day when everything was going to come together and you’d be full time in the series soon. Soon eventually became 2022. Was there ever a time during all those years when you thought this is just not going to happen and I’m not going to be a NASCAR national series driver?

That race at Richmond sticks out to me pretty well in my career. We ran really well that night and there was a lot of Cup drivers in the field — it was a really tough field. We finished seventh but really should have finished better than we did that night, and we sat in the media center after the race and talked about my situation. I remember people in there didn’t even know who I was, what I raced and didn’t know anything about me at all. It was such an interesting time. 

In the years after that, we were never really able to put anything together. Up to three years ago, … I’m short-track racing all around the Carolinas, Virginia and we ultimately end up going for a weekly series national championship. That Josh Berry three years ago had fully accepted that he was going to be a career short-track racer, and I was going to try to be the best one that I could at that moment and never could have dreamed any of this.

Josh Berry lands a NASCAR Cup Series ride

Josh Berry talks with Bob Pockrass about his path to landing a NASCAR Cup Series ride, what it will take to become a Cup champion, and what he expects out of Kevin Harvick the broadcaster.

How much more prepared is Josh Berry of 2023 for this 2024 opportunity than the Josh Berry of four, five, six years ago?

Without a doubt I’m way more prepared. I’ve won a ton more races, have a ton more experience, even at the short-track ranks within the Xfinity Series, the Cup Series and truck series over the last couple of years. My experience this year in the Cup car, it was a great audition for what I have ahead of me in 2024. And I feel like it’s something that I’m ready for. And I’m excited to get there.

Would you have known that you were ready for it if you did not have the opportunity to fill in for those injured Hendrick drivers?

You would like to think — the conversations that we had at SHR began before that opportunity there with the 9 [filling in for Chase Elliott]. So it’s kind of a weird timeline, but it definitely helped. I don’t know if you jump full-fledged Cup racing that you really ever know what you’re getting into. But I feel like the opportunities that I had this year definitely prepared me for what I’m going to see on track, but also off track. And it was a great experience to be able to do that.

If there’s another driver who needs to miss a race, will you still get that opportunity now that this has been announced and moving to a new manufacturer?

I don’t think I will. First off, I don’t wish that on anybody else. It was just a crazy sequence of events there. I don’t think so, but you never know. At this point, we’re definitely fully focused on closing out the Xfinity Series strong and closing out my time at JR Motorsports as strong as we can, and hopefully going for a championship.

Tony Stewart said today that he thinks he can mold you into a Cup champion. What will it take for you to do that?

I think I have the foundation on and off the track to do that. I really just have to get accustomed to the race cars, and the racing. Cup racing is incredibly hard. And these guys are top-level, incredible talents. … Everybody that makes it to this point is an extremely good race-car driver. So it’s just about, for me, putting all the pieces together. I feel like I know that I’m going to have a great team around me with Rodney [Childers] and that whole 4 group. And I know that if we put all the pieces together and if we do the right things and work hard, we can have success.

Is any part of this surreal?

Today was a little surreal. I think seeing the [SHR] backdrop … and all the media attention has been kind of surreal. I feel really spoiled. I think honestly, today, it just is amazing to get to experience all this. I’ve had a lot of time to process this day, and I’m still processing even in the moment. But it’s been just such an exciting day from the start.

Future Cup champ?

Tony Stewart explains why he thinks SHR can turn Josh Berry into a Cup champion.

You’re replacing Kevin Harvick — or taking the seat of Kevin Harvick. Nobody can probably replace Kevin. What does it mean to you to be in that car?

First off, it’s just an incredible opportunity. They’ve been one of the winningest if not the winningest car over the past decade in the Cup Series. They set the bar, set the standard for how you operate as a Cup team. For me, that’s a really big sigh of relief to go to a team that’s operating at that kind of level. For me, it gives me some relief and knowing — similar to what I experienced this year [at Hendrick] — that if I can go into it with the right mindset and do the work that I need to do and perform on the racetrack and learn from those guys and work with them, that we can have the results that we deserve. And I truly believe that.

For the first half of next year, Kevin Harvick is going to be up in the FOX booth watching you race and probably critiquing you a little bit. Has he given you any advice and have you asked him to be easy on you at all? At least at the start?

No. It’s an exciting time for him as well. But honestly, it’s something similar that I’ve related to with Dale [Earnhardt Jr. at NBC]. So I get the critiquing part of it. Kevin is going to be a great asset to me. He’s a future NASCAR Hall of Famer, one of the best to ever do it and taking his seat in his car that he’s getting out of is a tremendous opportunity. I’m going to be using Kevin as much as I can. He’s a wealth of knowledge. I’d be silly not to call Kevin every chance I can.

What To Watch For

With a start time of a little after 6 p.m. CT, the Cup race at Nashville should go from sunlight to racing under the lights at Nashville Superspeedway, where sundown likely will come about two hours into the race.

How much will the track change? Temperatures will get cooler, but a concrete surface sometimes doesn’t change as much. Still, keeping up with the track should be key.

Obviously, many eyes will be on Chase Elliott, who won the race last year and needs a win over the next 10 races to secure a playoff spot.

Among the drivers who were strong there last year — Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch — so expect them to be strong again.

Thinking Out Loud

Some fans aren’t thrilled with a Sunday night event, but for the Nashville race as well as the Atlanta race next month, racing at night is likely a good thing for the fans in attendance and the drivers themselves.

The Next Gen car generates more heat than the previous car so the drivers will appreciate the cooler temperatures.

The fans, too, likely will be more comfortable. But will those advantages racing on Sunday night outweigh the disadvantage of fans both at the track and watching at home potentially having to go to work in the morning?

That’s something NASCAR will have to monitor. But it certainly is worth a try.

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They Said It                                                                       

“Josh is somebody that we feel like we can turn into a champion.” —Tony Stewart on Stewart-Haas Racing signing Josh Berry to drive the No. 4 car in 2024

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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