Some were surprised Justin Allgaier wasn’t retained to fill in, given the JR Motorsports connection with Hendrick Motorsports. Others felt Corey LaJoie should have been given a shot in a prime-time ride.
In his four starts thus far, Berry has been a solid choice, posting two top 10s, including a runner-up finish in last weekend’s race at Richmond Raceway. While he’s only made a handful of starts thus far, he has delivered, being a legitimate contender late in the race on Sunday (April 2).
Has Berry already proven he’s a candidate for a NASCAR Cup Series ride in 2024, or would he be better served to continue to stick with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series for now? Trenton Worsham and Wyatt Watson return this to debate this week’s 2-Headed Monster.
Josh Has Been Berry, Berry Good
Josh Berry has been proving himself to be a very talented driver over the course of his time in NASCAR. He has been a late bloomer in these higher divisions, recently debuting in the Cup Series when the sport’s most popular driver, Chase Elliott, got injured in snowboarding accident and was asked to fill in. No one had super-high expectations for Berry, just keep the car clean and bring some decent runs home for the owners’ points and try to keep it out of trouble.
After a few starts getting the hang of the Next Gen car, also in the midst of mass crew chief suspensions following louver penalties, Berry brought home a second-place finish at Richmond behind his teammate, Kyle Larson. Having moved up through the field steadily after starting 30th, Berry started on the front row on the final restart, putting himself in a position to win if Larson had a bad launch.
I believe going into 2024 Berry will be a hot name to get into a ride at the top level.
As of now, there are not many options are open in his pipeline of Hendrick Motorsports & Chevrolet. Trackhouse Racing Team or Kaulig Racing would have to expand to a third car or Richard Childress Racing expanding to more than two cars once again for that to work.
The other issue that may arise is his age of 32 years old. Does a team want someone with experience, maturity, and respect? Or would they go for the young gun who has lots to learn, may be too aggressive, and take years to develop?
Drivers are routinely starting the driving careers before they can even read; sometimes at ages as young as 3 or 4 years old, and are developed over the years into being competitive drivers. However, it is rare to have someone like Berry who comes from the grassroots level of racing work their way up into the higher ranks due to it being about who can bring money and sponsors, meaning if they bring in the money but aren’t that great, they may get in a ride over a guy who’s very talented but doesn’t bring funding.
Berry is not the only driver who could have success in Cup at this stage of his career, especially when a driver like Kevin Harvick is carrying a team on his shoulders every week is in his final year in his mid-40s.
Greg Biffle entered his rookie year at the age of 33 for what is now RFK Racing. Over his 11-year career he won 19 times, finished in the top 10 in points six times and the top five three times, narrowly finishing second to Tony Stewart in 2005, the second year of the Chase championship format.
Berry may not mimic that kind of performance immediately, but in today’s climate, he would be a driver to win you one to two races a season, consistently make the playoffs, and possibly have that dream season of a Championship 4 appearance. He would have maybe 10 solid years in the tank going full-time next year, pushing a retirement window of 43-45 years old.
The only question that remains is, where would he race?
As mentioned previously, his current pipeline seems full, but if he got that top ride I’m sure he would take it and one team sticks out among the rest, Stewart-Haas Racing.
Berry is the type of driver Tony Stewart loves, coming from the late model grassroots scene, and being a bit of a throwback racer. Ford Motor Company said “no” when he pursued Kyle Larson, but he did get Ryan Preece for 2023 also, both coming from similar ilk as Berry.
With Harvick retiring and Aric Almirola’s future up in the air, there are two seats in which one he could fill. The tin-foil hat on me would suggest that since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was interested in forming a Cup team with Jimmie Johnson before Johnson became a co-owner at Legacy Motorsport Group, Gene Haas could lose interest in NASCAR due to recent lack of performance, and Stewart and Earnhardt Jr. take over and become a Chevrolet team.
Again, that last part is a purely conjecture.
With all that said, age is not an issue with Berry as many drivers enter their prime during this era and so many do not get a chance to show it off due to finances and lack of sponsorship. He does deserve a chance in Cup and while options may appear limited, there is a path for him to make it. – Trenton Worsham
Cup Teams Aren’t Ready for Berry Quite Yet
Josh Berry has certainly impressed with how he is performing in his substitution role for the No. 9 Chevrolet. The short track ace has proven himself worthy of one day driving with the best in the sport in just a handful of starts in the Cup Series, but his opportunity will have to await him farther down the road.
The 32-year-old is certainly getting better and better as his racing career evolves. Earning a spot in the Xfinity Championship 4 was a great step forward after showing out in his initial part-time season. No question he will be in line for a ride soon.
However, the time for Berry to land a quality Cup ride isn’t quite now.
The pipeline for Chevrolet simply seems too crowded at the moment. For instance, Hendrick Motorsports has all four of its cars’ respective drivers locked into to multi-year deals. Berry would have to outshine the likes of Larson, Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron to earn a ride with Mr. H.
Richard Childress Racing is also capped with the talent in its stable. Kyle Busch certainly isn’t going anywhere after just landing with RCR and returned to winning form, and Austin Dillon will seemingly always keep a ride with his grandfather.
Even if RCR expands to a third car, Austin Hill is waiting for his opportunity to make the jump to Cup and appears every bit as capable as Berry is. As good as Berry has performed thus far, I still see RCR sticking to their guns.
Trackhouse Racing also signed both of its drivers to multi-year deals. Unless the Project 91 initiative turns into a full-time chartered ride, don’t expect Berry to be rocking any of their colors.
The biggest wildcard might be Legacy Motor Club. LMC is in a bit of a funk as of late, and you never know what will happen in the future. I’ll assume that they keep Noah Gragson around, but Erik Jones isn’t vaulting way ahead of his No. 42 counterpart like last year with Ty Dillon. With the hiccup in performance as of late, it’ll be interesting to see if they think about bringing in Berry, but it’s way to early to tell.
I doubt JTG Daugherty Racing would be interested in letting its Daytona 500 winner go a year after such a historic feat and the signature win for one of the longer tenured chartered teams in the series. Berry would have to check back later into this team if things get rocky at all between JTG and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Spire Motorsports may be an option — Berry has raced with the team before, but to run full-time competitively would be an immense task. LaJoie is doing the best he can in the No. 7, but the No. 77 can’t even limp outside of the top 30 to save its life most weekends. I’d find Berry hard-pressed if he takes that ride.
I believe Berry’s best opportunity comes with the No. 4 of Stewart-Haas Racing. Replacing that ride would be big shoes to fill full-time, but Berry is getting that experience now with Elliott. The biggest obstacle would be the jump from Chevrolet to Ford. Tony Stewart isn’t afraid of calling veteran talent to race for him. However, the biggest issue would be getting him away from the Hendrick pipeline, and I don’t know if he can pull it off. With Riley Herbst running considerably, if he starts tallying some wins, I see SHR calling him up to the Cup Series first, particular with the sponsorship he brings to the table.
So, for now, Berry seems to be stuck in no-man’s-land. He has the talent, but the availability doesn’t seem to be there right now for a competitive ride. I have no doubt in my mind that eventually, I will see Berry on Sundays. However, right now, he will have to continue to school the Xfinity field until a good opportunity arises. — Wyatt Watson
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