Josh Berry will take the final step in his long journey to the top of racing with Stewart-Haas Racing next season as the replacement for future NASCAR Hall of Famer Kevin Harvick.
Harvick retires at the end of this season and Berry was named next year’s driver in the No. 4 Ford Mustang for SHR on Wednesday. Berry, an officer who signed with Harvick’s agency earlier this year as the first management team he has had in his career, will be 33 when he begins his first full season at the elite Cup level.
His route from Hendersonville, Tennessee, to one of the sport’s foremost seats was pioneered by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who discovered Berry at least a dozen years ago in the online racing community. Earnhardt has taken Berry as far as he can go, which this year has included eight Cup races with Hendrick Motorsports as the injured replacement for Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.
Some believed those races with Hendrick teams were a test for Berry, but SHR was already after him. Harvick, 47, is the core of the four-car team, but he will step down at the end of his 23rd Cup season.
Aric Almirola, 39, has not said whether he will postpone his 2022 retirement announcement for a second year. Ryan Preece, like Berry, will be 33 next season, but his fifth full Cup season will be only his second with SHR.
That leaves Chase Briscoe, who drives the pressure-packed No. 14 from co-owner Tony Stewart, and while Briscoe has shown promise, once Harvick leaves, SHR loses its superstar, annual championship contender and heartbeat of the equipment.
In comes Berry, who may have little experience racing at the national NASCAR level, but is a veteran who has worked his way up to Harvick’s seat and may end up filling a huge void at SHR.
«What a team will get when they sign Josh Berry to a Cup deal is a driver with tremendous racing talent and a turnkey winner,» said Earnhardt, who developed Berry and brought him in on time last year. Full to Xfinity Series.
«While it’s amazing and a great opportunity to sign a young driver who will become a champion, I think you can skip those years of development with a guy like Josh, and get to work on the championship part and win races because he He’s there mentally, professionally and talented.»
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Berry takes over as driver for a group led by Rodney Childers that won 37 races with Harvick, including the 2014 Cup title. Berry has a full season of Xfinity Series racing, but has converted an early partial season with JR Motorsports in a full-time job with five wins in 76 career starts.
In his Cup Series starts as Hendrick’s backup, Berry impressed Hendrick’s group even before his second-place finish at Richmond as Elliott’s backup early in the season.
«Kevin Harvick has obviously set the bar high, but Josh brings maturity, experience and, most of all, a winning record to Stewart-Haas Racing,» said Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Gene Haas. «He is the right driver, at the right time, for the No. 4 team and our organization.»
Berry wasn’t sure the time would come for him, especially when Earnhardt Jr. discovered a 19-year-old, who offered Berry a late-model test drive and convinced him to move to North Carolina. Earnhardt gave Berry a job in the parts department at JR Motorsports and a chance to prove himself on the short track scene.
Earnhardt noted that Berry driving for his Late Model show won «over a hundred notable races and multi-track championships and the national title.» Earnhardt found a way to get Berry to start some Xfinity series «which was basically like, ‘Hey, here’s a very slim chance to show what you can do. Go out there and you’ve got to make it happen,'» and Berry won at Martinsville. in the 13th start of his career.
«I cried like he was my brother. It’s hard to describe the emotion, but it was incredible,» Earnhardt said of the moment that finally put Berry on the national radar.
Its value has skyrocketed and Berry becomes a great addition to Ford, which attracts a sought after commodity outside of the Chevrolet camp. Berry is happy with how long the road has taken him, although he’s sure to be the oldest candidate in next year’s Cup rookie class. Cup seats these days go to very young drivers, with rookie candidates generally in their early 20s.
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«I’m very proud of how I got to this point and earned this opportunity,» Berry said. «I don’t like to use the word luck. It’s also been about preparing for the opportunity. I wouldn’t change a thing about how I got here. It made me who I am. Throughout my teenage years, it was a struggle just to keep competing, to get there. to the next race.
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«The timing that Dale and I got together was pivotal. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know if I would have ever raced a stock car, or how much more I would have raced, just because the races overwhelmed us financially,» Berry continued. «Those years of racing and winning, and the people I was with and worked with, prepared me for the opportunities I had, and prepared me to capitalize on this opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing. Even without knowing where it would ultimately take me, I I would do it all over again.»