By Justin Schuoler, Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS – Josh Berry had quite the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In a span of less than 48 hours, he would discover that he would pilot the No. 9 Napa Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 after Chase Elliott injured himself in a snowboarding accident.
“It was a lot of fun,” Berry shared after his first race in the NextGen car. “Really I thought the first half of the race went pretty well. We were really close, right on the edge of staying on the lead lap or not. We just needed a couple more cautions to just give ourselves a better chance.
“The second half of the race, we had an issue going on with the throttle or something because every time I was letting off, it was hanging wide-open. I was just trying to nurse it home and keep it out of trouble.”
Although the Tennessee native has two prior NASCAR Cup Series starts, both took place in 2021 in the previous generation stock car. NASCAR introduced the NextGen Cup car in 2022, meaning Berry’s first time behind the wheel came in Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions. His time was good enough for 32nd out of 36 total drivers.
“The racer in me, of course I was a little disappointed,” he said after qualifying on Saturday. “I feel like the one thing I had to do today was not tear it up, and we’ve seen issues with that with this car being treacherous. I knew I had to stay under the limit there, just to make sure I got that car to the race.”
The race was all a learning experience for Berry. Learning the car and understanding its differences with his current NASCAR Xfinity Series ride as well as the previous generation car were steep challenges suddenly tossed in his lap. However, lap times continued to improve where his best time continued to be more and more respectable.
He eventually broke into the 29-second bracket, putting his lap times in the top half of the field. As he worked to put himself in position to gain those spots, a hard drive out of Turn 2 met with a gust of wind pushed his car into the outside wall. That damage appeared to permanently affect his machine, ultimately relegating him to a 29th place result, two laps behind the leaders.
Jeff Andrews, President and General Manager of Hendrick Motorsports, was still quite pleased with Berry’s efforts. While the team is focused on Elliott’s health and recovery, it was a good day for the team as a whole as Berry’s other teammates finished first, second and third to sweep the podium for the Pennzoil 400.
“Josh did an amazing job for us given the circumstances, and given the fact he’s not ever been in one of these Next-Gen cars before, really happy with what he did for us today,” said Andrews. “We’ve got some things to work on. We think we had a little bit of an issue there that was causing him a little bit of — some issues with his throttle there during the race that we’ve got to get fixed and remedied, but really, really pleased with the job he did for us today.”
Berry will race for the team again this upcoming weekend at Phoenix Raceway and other oval races until Elliott is able to return.