Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Friday 5: SHR’s closing after this season has Josh Berry ‘racing for my career again’

After years of trying to reach NASCAR’s top series, Josh Berry was tabbed to take over future Hall of Famer Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Cup car beginning this season.

“I can’t imagine a better opportunity for myself,” Berry said nearly a year ago after being introduced as Stewart-Haas Racing’s newest driver.

That day, co-owner Tony Stewart highlighted Berry’s racing DNA and how it fit Stewart-Haas Racing’s culture.

“I’m not interested in some kid’s father coming and buying their way into the Cup Series,” Stewart said. “I have zero interest in that. 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 of a sudden he’s a Cup driver. I’ve got zero interest in that.

“Josh has put the time, the effort in and every time he’s gotten an opportunity, he’s made the most of it. That’s the traits that championship drivers are built off of.”

Less than a year after that introduction, Berry and his teammates are looking for jobs with Stewart-Haas Racing’s recent announcement that it will cease operations at the end of this season.

“I’m racing for my career again,” the 33-year-old Berry said this week. “Like I’ve done countless times.”

Stewart-Haas makes 'difficult decision' to close
Tony Stewart and Gene Haas announced Stewart-Haas Racing will close its NASCAR operation at the conclusion of the 2024 season, altering the NASCAR landscape for 2024 and beyond.

It was nearly a decade ago that Dale Earnhardt Jr. all but pleaded for a company to sponsor Berry in the Xfinity Series but nothing materialized.

Six years after Berry scored his first top-10 finish — coming in just his third Xfinity start — Berry finally got more than a few series starts.

His opportunity came with JR Motorsports in 2021. He drove a dozen races in the first half of the season before Sam Mayer turned 18 years old and could drive on all the the tracks in the series. Berry won at Martinsville and had some other races added to his schedule. He won at Las Vegas late in the season.

That led to a full-time season in Xfinity in 2022 with JR Motorsports. Berry won three times and finished fourth in the points. He ran the full season last year while also serving as a substitute driver in eight Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports when Chase Elliott and later Alex Bowman were out with injuries.

This year was Berry’s chance to have his own Cup ride and work with championship crew chief Rodney Childers.

Joe Gibbs Racing claimed the pole and the victory last year at Sonoma Raceway.

Berry’s season is on par with what other rookies have done in recent years through 15 races. The previous four seasons the top rookie — Ty Gibbs in 2023, Austin Cindric in 2022, Chase Briscoe in 2021 and Tyler Reddick in 2020 — was an average of 19.8 in the points standings at this time of the year. Berry enters Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway 20th in the season standings.

“Without a doubt I would do it all again, even if I knew the outcome,” Berry said of joining SHR.

Berry, along with teammates Noah Gragson, Ryan Preece and Briscoe, have 21 races together at Stewart-Haas Racing before the doors close for good.

None of the four SHR teams is in a playoff spot at this time. Briscoe is 10 points below the cutline. Berry is 104 points below the cutline, Gragson is 113 points below the cutline, and Preece is 157 points below the cutline.

NASCAR Cup teams compete in the second road course event of the season Sunday at Sonoma Raceway (3:30 p.m.

“I think we still have a lot to prove,” Berry said of he and his No. 4 team. “I think that we have a very strong team. It’s going to continue to be harder and harder to get everything going as people begin searching around and trying to find jobs.

“We have a great leader in Rodney. I think being a rookie in the series is really hard, and I think I’ve answered the call on that. I’m proud of the job that I’ve done. I’m proud of the job that I did at (Hendrick Motorsports in 2023). I feel like that I’m deserving of being here. I think if we keep doing that, we’ll find another opportunity.”

Berry said a goal is to go to a new ride together with Childers and the No. 4 crew.

“All of us want to race with him,” Berry said of Childers, who won a Cup title in 2014 with Harvick. “We want to race with each other. They’ve completely, I feel like, bought into me and made me more confident than I’ve ever been. … I think we still have a lot of good days ahead of us.”

2. Challenges few see

The weight of not winning with a championship organization can be heavy for any driver. Austin Cindric provided a peek into how not winning for 85 consecutive Cup races before last weekend’s victory at World Wide Technology challenged him.

Cindric said that going winless last year was the first time he had not won any type of race since 2011. While he maintained his level of preparation, it wasn’t always easy in some ways during that stretch.

“I would say the hardest thing over the last handful of years for me to do — and a lot of it is a weekly self-check for me because there is a different way to prepare for a race — to prepare if you’re going to run from 10th to 25th vs. 10th to first, whether if that’s studying restarts, how different drivers drive, what decisions to make in traffic,” the 2022 Daytona 500 champion said in response to a question from NBC Sports.

Blaney runs out of fuel, sets up Cindric's big win
Marty Snider and Parker Kligerman examine the factors that led to Ryan Blaney running out of fuel on the final lap at WWT Raceway, leading to Austin Cindric's win, as well as Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson's incident.

“Those are the types of things that my preparation has had to be a much wider spectrum of preparation because the racing is so different throughout the Cup Series field. This past weekend, there were cars that raced that race that I never saw the entire weekend. Usually, I see the entire field at some point or the other, and it’s been difficult for me going into race weekends to convince myself that I need to prepare to watch every single restart of how to win every single restart in every scenario — the same way that I would going into every single Xfinity Series race — going into the race knowing that there’s a chance I’m not going to be racing for the win here, but I need to be ready for that opportunity.

“There are weeks where you’re finishing 25th three weeks in a row where it’s hard to sit here and realistically think you’ll just go in there and need to use this information, but some of it is just about not being lazy. That’s how you have to challenge yourself because it’s kind of depressing watching some of those things thinking that you’re not going to have to use it, but it’s necessary and that’s the mindset that I’ve forced myself to have is to be prepared for those moments.

“This (past) weekend is honestly proof of that process for not just me but my team. That’s what I feel like I project onto my race team is to be prepared for that, know that we have that opportunity and it’s good to be surrounded by, whether if that’s two championship teams right next door (in teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano) … or even (the) IndyCar program or an IMSA program. We have enough greatness surrounding us to know that we have all those ingredients.”

3. Learning a different way to race

Three drivers with success in the Australian Supercars Series will compete this weekend at Sonoma Raceway in either the NASCAR Xfinity or Cup Series. the biggest adjustment for each might not be what side of the car they sit in but how aggressive they’ll need to be.

Former Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen is in his first full season in the Xfinity Series as he eyes a move to Cup next year, while current Supercars drivers Cam Waters and Will Brown will make their Cup debuts this weekend. Waters will drive the No. 60 for RFK Racing. Brown will drive the No. 33 for Richard Childress Racing.

The Next Gen car is more similar to a vehicle in the Supercars Series, making the transition a bit easier, but the driving styles are vastly different.

“The racing over here is very aggressive, probably a little more aggressive then back home because you can bump people and get away with it,” said Waters, who has competed in Craftsman Truck Series races at Martinsville (30th-place finish) and Kansas (19th place) this season.

Doing so in a Supercars race is likely to result in a penalty.

Van Gisbergen admits that was among his first thoughts when he spun Sam Mayer in the first corner of the opening lap of last weekend’s Xfinity race at Portland International Raceway.

“It was completely my fault with the wheel hop and drove into him,” van Gisbergen said of the incident. “I thought ‘(expletive) that’s a penalty’ straight away in my mind. It’s not here. Then I spent the whole race feeling bad about spinning him. He was the first guy I went and saw when I finished all my media stuff (after winning) to apologize. … My mentality is still pretty different about that stuff and kind of switch my mind off from hitting someone and carrying on with it.”

4. A little help

Late in last weekend’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway, Christopher Bell saw his chances to win end when his engine soured.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., who was not on the lead lap, helped Bell by pushing him down the straightaways a few times. Truex said this week that he wasn’t asked to do so but saw a teammate in need.

“I’m like, ‘How am I catching him?’” Truex said. “I’m (three) laps down. I had nothing to race for at that point. I was the only car (three) laps down. We needed cautions.

“They’re like ‘You’re catching the 20. He’s limping around. His engine is going sour.’ I just thought in my mind, ‘OK, I’ll just push him down the straightaways.’

“It just happened. It was totally natural. They didn’t say nothing about it. Nobody asked for help. I was like, ‘Eh, I am bored out here riding around (three) laps down. I’m not racing anyone. I’m just going to push him, see if I can help him.”

Bell went on to finish seventh.

5. Numbers to know

2 — Multi-time Cup champions outside a playoff spot: Joey Logano and Kyle Busch are the only active drivers with multiple championships. Logano is 14 points below the cutline. Busch is 20 points below the cutline.

5 — Consecutive top-five finishes by points leader Denny Hamlin.

8 — Starting position for the Sonoma winner in three of the last four Cup races there. Martin Truex Jr. started there last year and in 2019 when he won both races. Daniel Suarez started eighth when he won the 2022 race there.

8.4 — Average finish for Chris Buescher on road courses in the Next Gen car. That’s the best average finish among active drivers in the Next Gen era.

9 — Drivers out of 15 who won a Cup race last year who have not won a Cup race this season. They are: Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Ross Chastain, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Shane van Gisbergen.

36 — Race winless drought for Kyle Busch, which is tied for the longest in his Cup career.