RICHMOND, Va. – Not since Oct. 13, 2002 had a fill-in driver won a NASCAR Cup Series race, when Jamie McMurray did it at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Josh Berry came oh-so-close to being the first in 21 years on Sunday (April 2) at Richmond Raceway while filling in for Chase Elliott, as a strategy call paid off to put the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet up front amid several late-race yellows.
“I absolutely loved it,” Berry said of the team’s decision on pit road following the race. “I thought we had some good pace at times. We needed some clean air, and these guys, they thought outside the box. And that’s what it takes in these races; I think you never know what could happen.
“If you do the same that everybody around you does, then you’re gonna finish with them, and they made a couple bold calls — one that kept us on the lead lap early in the race and that one at the end to get us some track position.”
HMS Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon came up to Berry as he talked to media, congratulating him with a hug.
“Jeff Gordon was my hero when I was a kid,” he said. “That’s pretty amazing, man. One of the first races I remember watching was the ’97 Daytona 500 and that went pretty well for this company. So to be able to drive for them and to finish second place, I mean, it just really exceeds all my expectations.”
Berry began filling in at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the injured Elliott, a 10th-place effort at Phoenix Raceway his best result to date heading into the Commonwealth. He started 30th after both practice and qualifying were rained out, riding around in the back half of the field as the race began before spinning on the frontstretch on lap 96 after contact from Ryan Blaney.
“We were struggling a little bit, we were getting into the pack,” he said. “Got tight, I think, and Blaney was coming through the field and just got into me really light. I don’t think he meant to do nothing.”
So began the recovery for the No. 9 team, culminating in the strategy call that landed Berry with a runner-up finish.
“Just got a lot of people to thank on getting to this point,” Berry said. “Obviously Mr. H and Chase, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, who gave me this opportunity […][and to] even be considered for opportunity like this.
“All the credit today goes to [interim crew chief] Tom [Gray] and this whole NAPA team, man. They made some amazing strategy calls. We weren’t bad, we were […] just in the midst of the pack, and it’s just so hard [with] no practice or qualifying. They just drop you in the field like that with the amount of experience that I have. [The team] thought outside the box, made some good calls there and it worked in my favor.”
Berry did finish third at Richmond on Saturday (April 1) after leading 63 laps in the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ ToyotaCare250, but also didn’t have practice or qualifying for that race.
“It’s tough,” Berry said. “[…] You’re racing back in the crowd when everybody thinks that they’re good enough, everybody’s racing just really hard. It’s just different things, [you] don’t get strung out as much and I found myself racing with a lot of good cars, especially through the middle parts of the race.
“These guys are good, and we needed to change with the strategy. We needed something good to happen and it did. They gave us opportunity and we capitalized on that.”
Dominant teammate William Byron led 117 laps on the day and seemed poised to do battle with Martin Truex Jr. for the victory, but both lost multiple spots under the caution’s pit stops. Larson and Berry made up the front row for the ensuing restart, and despite Byron’s spin avoided the mayhem and stayed out front.
Larson pulled away on the final green flag of the day to claim his second win at Richmond, but Berry maintained a gap of a second or less for a number of the final 14 laps; the final margin of victory was 1.535 seconds. Alex Bowman remained in the top 10 most of the afternoon and came home with a top-10 finish.
“I felt like this was a good track for me,” Berry added. “The first stage was not good — it really was [in] the second stage [that] we started getting some momentum, things got strung out and we were cutting some good lap times. We just needed to get up front — it’s just hard. This is my fourth race in this car [and] no practice or qualifying definitely made it a little tough for us.”
Berry has been making starts in NASCAR since 2014, but didn’t begin full time in any of the sport’s three premier series until 2022. He scored three wins for JR Motorsports en route to a fourth-place points finish and has six top-10 efforts in seven races so far this year. Berry’s 10 laps led on Sunday at Richmond were the first at the Cup level of his career.
“Three years ago, we were racing late models, stocks at Hickory [Speedway] and Langley [Speedway] and those are both pretty close to here,” he said. “Three years I went racing late models, never thinking that I would ever race in the top-three series again, to finish in second in the Cup race at Richmond.”
About the author
Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.
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