Dropping the Hammer: Josh Berry’s Moment

Josh Berry didn’t go to victory lane Sunday (April 2) at Richmond Raceway.

However, when it comes to his prospective future in the NASCAR Cup Series, he did the next best thing.

Even if his second-place finish at the Virginia short track is his best Cup result in 2023, the Tennessee native is already receiving rave reviews from people who matter.

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Strategy Call Pays Off for Josh Berry With Runner-Up Finish at Richmond

“I think he’s got a future in the Cup Series,” Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon said.

“He is a Cup-Series-caliber driver,” said Kyle Larson, the 2021 Cup Series champion.

Though they’re his short-term coworkers, that’s not faint praise.

And it’s not praise for some young, hotshot prodigy tearing it up in the Craftsman Truck or Xfinity series.

Berry is 32 years old.

When was the last time someone in their 30s was heralded as having a “future” in the Cup Series?

For a little perspective, the last time the Cup Series had a full-time driver — someone that ran every race — who won Rookie of the Year while in their 30s was Juan Pablo Montoya in 2007. He turned 32 in September of that year.

If you were to give a driver a five-to-six-race tryout in the Cup Series, I’m hard-pressed to think of many other scenarios that would have the pressure of Berry’s situation.

Imagine getting your absolute best chance to showcase your talent and you have to do it in the car driven by NASCAR’s most popular driver, Chase Elliott.

Maybe that’s one reason why Berry was the right choice for the job.

While he’s out trying to prove his worth like any of his younger competitors in the in the Xfinity Series, he has years of racing experience and natural maturity from life experience to temper his ambitions.

Berry’s result Sunday at Richmond came after he was spun from contact earlier in the race by Ryan Blaney.

It’s easy to imagine a far younger driver letting that setback fluster them enough for it to affect the rest of their race.

“You know, to come here and start in the back, no practice, qualifying, get spun out, work through the field like that, just second place, it’s pretty cool,” Berry said.

Until Sunday, when pit strategy and late restarts fell his way, Berry’s stint in the No. 9 hadn’t been flashy. Before Richmond, he’d finished 29th (Las Vegas Motor Speedway), 10th (Phoenix Raceway) and 18th (Atlanta Motor Speedway) before stepping aside at Circuit of the Americas for Jordan Taylor to drive the car.

But even though he’s been pulling double duty, the five-time Xfinity Series winner has been putting in the work to get better.

“I feel like he has done a great job every time he has been in the car,” Gordon said Sunday. “You start to see a bit of a trend with him. Of course, we didn’t do him any favors by him starting 30th today.”

Gordon observed that Berry “doesn’t take too many risks or chances until he knows what he has. Then you just start to see the lap times come and build and the run start to come together.”

Berry also “clearly knows how to manage tires and manage a race well. It seems like the longer the race, the better he does. We’re really happy with the job that he has done.”

See also
5 Points To Ponder: Is Josh Berry Putting Someone Else's Ride in Jeopardy?

Gordon posited that pulling double duty between Cup and Xfinity over the last month may have actually hurt Berry’s growth.

“[The Next Gen car is a] much different car than what he is used to racing every weekend,” Gordon said. “I’m not even sure if Saturday is not hurting him for the Sunday races because the cars are so much different. The sidewall, tires, the rear input […] Just from me going from an H-pattern transmission to sequential would throw me off.”

Larson, the race winner on Sunday, said Berry has done a “phenomenal job” filling in for Elliott over the last month and praised him for his input in the team’s debriefs.

“I feel like he describes his car really well,” Larson said. “He seems like he is probably really easy to work with. I’m sure the 9 team probably feels he is easy to work with.”

Larson also wants to see more of Berry on Sundays.

“I hope whenever Chase comes back that Josh gets more [opportunities] going forward and good equipment because he is a Cup Series caliber driver,” Larson said. “He has proven it just in the few races that he has ran.

“He is very, very deserving of being in the Cup Series, and he has worked extremely hard his whole career to get these opportunities.”

Berry’s guest-starring role in the No. 9 is likely coming to an end in the next couple of weeks.

Gordon stated Sunday that Elliott’s recovery timetable was roughly six weeks.

This weekend’s race on the dirt version of Bristol Motor Speedway will be the sixth race that Elliott has missed.

There’s no doubt a good chunk of NASCAR Nation is eager for Elliott to be back in the No. 9.

However, I can’t be the only one who wouldn’t be opposed to seeing what Berry could do in the car in the April 16 race at Martinsville Speedway.

Word is that Berry’s really good there.

2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com. 

The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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