NASCAR Cup Series
Stewart-Haas Racing opts for experience over youth with Josh Berry
NASCAR Cup Series

Stewart-Haas Racing opts for experience over youth with Josh Berry

Published Jun. 21, 2023 4:46 p.m. ET

CONCORD, N.C. — Tony Stewart didn’t want a young driver to fill the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford. 

So he signed a Cup rookie. A rookie who will be 33 years old when he steps into the seat for the 2024 Daytona 500 that is being vacated by the retiring Kevin Harvick.

"You don’t get many opportunities where you can get a Josh Berry," the three-time Cup champion Stewart said Wednesday in announcing Berry’s hiring to drive for SHR next season. "We’re kind of in an era of motorsports where all these young kids are crammed down your throat and it’s not necessarily what our DNA is built out of.


"Our DNA is built out of people that have been hands-on in racing for years. ... You want guys that get in that fully understand it."

It has been a long road for Berry, who first reached out to Dale Earnhardt Jr. about 14 years ago to show him some in-car footage of one of his races in Legends cars. Berry eventually was hired by JR Motorsports to work in the shop and later race on the regional level.

He made his first Xfinity start for JRM in 2014 but made only eight starts from 2014-17 and then not another until 2021. All of that time, he was building a racing resume, while also starting a family.

That time might have been spent wondering if he ever would get the chance he now has, but it is something that likely allowed him to land this coveted ride in replacing the 2014 Cup champion.

"There’s a number of things outside of the car that demonstrates well when it comes to life in general," Harvick said about Berry, who is now represented by Harvick’s KHI Management. "You can have fun doing this, but it’s way more fun if you win. In order to do that, you have to have everything else together."

Berry has everything else together. He has five career Xfinity wins, making the championship round in 2022 (he finished fourth) and sits fifth in the standings this year. He also has driven in eight Cup races — with one top-5 finish and three top-10s — this year in a substitute role for Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.

"Jumping in those [Hendrick] cars, seats don’t fit, don’t know the people very well and going in and being competitive and figuring it out," Harvick said. "That is one of the more unique scenarios about Josh is he is a little bit older, has a family and you don’t have to teach him about life.

"There’s a maturity factor that goes with life and I think he’s lived through some of the most important parts and had his face drug through the mud and all the things that it takes to figure out it’s not easy."

Berry had performed well in regional stock-car series for JR Motorsports but had difficulty landing sponsorship to move up the NASCAR ladder. JRM eventually gave Berry select Xfinity races, and Berry won in his 13th career start at Martinsville in April 2021.

"We found ourselves in a position to give him some opportunities in our Xfinity car," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That was basically like, ‘Hey, here’s like a very meager chance to show what you can do. Go out there and you have to make it happen. We don’t know whether this is all we’ll be able to allow.’

"He won at Martinsville in one of those abbreviated opportunities. I cried like if he was my brother. It’s hard to describe the emotion, but it was incredible."

Earnhardt has championed Berry to Cup teams as Berry’s time potentially is limited as he is entering his mid-30s. Earnhardt even attended the announcement Wednesday.

"What a team will get when they sign Josh Berry to a Cup deal is a driver with great race craft and a turn-key winner," Earnhardt said. "Whereas it’s incredible and a great opportunity to sign a young driver that will develop into a champion, I believe you get to skip those years of development with a guy like Josh.

"You get right into working on the championship part and winning races because he’s there mentally, professionally, and in talent."

That is what led to Rodney Childers, Harvick’s long-time crew chief, to suggest to Stewart that they get Berry to replace Harvick. Childers, a former short-track racer himself and avid watcher of grassroots racing online and who built a late model car recently for Harvick, will crew chief for Berry.

"I’ve watched him race at seems like 100 racetracks over the last five or six years, and just the way that he races and his car placement and the things that he does throughout a race, he knows how to race," Childers said.

"He’s just a racer, and that’s really important to me to be able to have those intelligent conversations about racing the right way and the things that we need to get better with."

Stewart said the team did not seriously consider any other candidates except for Berry, who was signed to a multiyear deal. Sponsorship was not announced for the car, but Stewart said conversations with current sponsors and new sponsors are ongoing.

"I find it hard to believe that if you want a championship driver that you’re going to find that in anybody that is as young as some of these guys are coming in," Stewart said. "They’re great race-car drivers, but I don’t know that they’re champions. And Josh is somebody that we feel like we can turn into a champion."

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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