Berry storms to season-best effort with shot at first Cup win

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

Coming to the final overtime restart at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Josh Berry had a windshield full of the two things he’d have to beat in order to become a winner in the NASCAR Cup Series: the rear bumper of Christopher Bell’s Toyota Camry XSE and the darkening skies surrounding the Magic Mile.

Two laps away from what could be a dream finally realized, Berry lined up second behind the race leader, rolling to the choose box with one more shot at his aspiring moment.

“I’m gonna do it. I’m going to lose sleep tonight if I don’t,” Berry radioed to his team.

Whether the comment was in reference to surrendering the front row for the preferred outside lane, or the big shove he gave Bell down the straightaway and into Turn 1, Berry left it all on the track in what felt like a race for the runner-up spot.

Bell was the clear dominant car in Loudon, leading a race-high 149 laps and winning the opening stage. Yet, from the drop of the green flag, Berry asserted himself as one of the Joe Gibb Racing driver’s worthiest adversaries.

After starting the USA Today 301 from 10th, courtesy of qualifying being canceled due to weather, Berry quickly advanced his way into the top-five, which is around where he challenged for a majority of the event.

In Stage One, Berry placed fifth. The second segment, he slipped to eighth and began to show some signs of distress with an ill-handling car in traffic. As green-flag stops cycled through with under 90 laps to go, the rookie found himself mired as far back as 20th when rain brought a stoppage to the race.

Following two hours of moisture, lightning and track drying, NASCAR prepared the track to where they felt it would be sufficient enough to debut Goodyear’s wet-weather tires in a competitive setting on a one-mile oval.

Once the No. 4 Ford Mustang Dark Horse got equipped for damp conditions, Berry looked like his predecessor Kevin Harvick, flying by his competition almost effortlessly back inside the top-10 and surging for more in the closing laps. 

Six of the 14 cautions flew within the final 70-plus laps remaining, in which he was able to capitalize on restarts and put himself in position for the win. 

When racing resumed with 26 to go, Berry was able to close in on Bell’s bumper during a 10-lap run before the first of two yellows waved inside of 10 to go. Unable to establish a rhythm from there on out, the five-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner had to settle for third-place finish behind Bell and teammate Chase Briscoe.

“We were 20th when it was raining and then we threw some rain tires on it and did what I knew we could do, and moved all the way up there,” Berry said. “That was a lot of fun, honestly. I am going to think back to a million things I could have done differently there, but the bottom was just so hard to get going through (turns) one and two. 

“I feel like if I could have just cleared (Briscoe), I was kind of inching in on Bell before the final caution,” Berry added. “I just got a little loose off (Turn) 2 and that let Chase get back to my left-rear and we got stuck racing each other. I don’t know. I wanted to take the front row so bad at the end there, but I just felt like we were making the right decision based on track conditions. It just didn’t work out.”

Berry’s podium finish matched his season-best effort, set five races ago at Darlington Raceway. In fact, during the six-race stretch since, he’s scored all four of his top-10 finishes in 2024. Not to mention, the two outliers came at the expense of wrecks at World Wide Technology Raceway and Sonoma Raceway.

Results over this successful sample size aside, there’s more to this current two-race top-10 streak than meets the eye. In back-to-back weeks, Berry put himself in a position to score his first Cup Series victory.

Last weekend at Iowa Speedway, he wound up seventh after leading a career-best 32 laps inside of 90 to go. In the No. 4 team’s most recent outing, they found themselves running inside the top-five for a majority of a soggy and chaotic spectacle at Loudon.

To give a better perspective for just how well they’ve performed in the past couple races, Berry maintained an average-running position of sixth and seventh at Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively. 

What makes this current stretch even more impressive is the fact there’s so much positivity radiating throughout the team, even under adverse and somber conditions. Less than one month ago, it was announced Stewart-Haas Racing would cease operations at the end of the 2024 season, leaving Berry, his teammates and thousands of staff workers with an uncertain future.

The reason Berry and the team are putting it together is because he’s never let uncertainty affect him. Coming from a late-model background, it’s been well documented how the Tennessee-born racer had to scrap his way into a NASCAR career later than most. 

“From as far as I can remember, I’ve had to race for a job,” Berry said. “My dad doesn’t pay for me to race (and) I’ve had to work for every opportunity I’ve gotten. I’ve been thankful to have some amazing people in my life that have supported me and gave me opportunities to race. 

“Nothing’s really going to change,” Berry added. “I’m going to keep racing hard and fighting and doing everything I can to stay racing at this level. I have a great team that is 100% behind me and wants to stay racing with me. I don’t feel like anything’s really ever come that easy for me, so, when I got this opportunity, I almost felt like it was too good to be true. 

“Here we are less than a year later dealing with all this. But we’re not going to quit. We’re going to keep digging.”

The camaraderie within the No. 4 team is as evident as it is infectious. You can hear it on the scanners between Berry, leader and crew chief Rodney Childers, and veteran spotter Eddie D’Hondt (both of who’ve won championships), just how much fun they’re having.

In short: they’re not sweating what they can’t control. Berry and Childers are simply doing what they do best and only getting stronger, which will help their cases landing jobs – or staying put.

It was recently announced current SHR co-owner Gene Haas would retain one Cup charter and operate as Haas Factory Team in 2025 with a two-car Xfinity program.

The outspoken consensus amongst the No. 4 team is that they want to keep as many people grouped together as possible. The driver and crew chief have mentioned this numerous times, plus it’s hard to argue with proven results and abundantly clear chemistry. Whether staying put together or committing to a different team as a package, the duo have proven to be a successful combination.  

“The number one focus on my mind right now is to find a way to keep racing with Rodney and this entire No. 4 group,” Berry said. “We’ve been progressing and getting better week in and week out. I think the culture that Rodney’s created here is second to none, and I feel like I fit into that.”

As the No. 4 team continues to get stronger, Berry has a 35-point advantage over Carson Hocevar in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, while also remaining in the postseason hunt with eight races to go, sitting 20th and 73 points back.

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