CHARLOTTE, N.C. – 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 is retiring at the end of this season and Berry on Wednesday was named next year's driver in the No. 4 Ford Mustang for SHR. Berry, a journeyman who earlier this year signed with Harvick's agency as the first management team he's 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 most prominent seats in the sport was pushed along 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 possible, which this year has included eight Cup races with Hendrick Motorsports as the injury replacement for both Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.
Some believed those races driving Hendrick equipment were a tryout for Berry, but SHR already was pursuing him. The 47-year-old Harvick is the core of the four-car team but is stepping down at the end of his 23rd Cup season.
Aric Almirola, who is 39, has not said if he's postponing his 2022 retirement announcement a second year. Ryan Preece, like Berry will be 33 next season, but his fifth full season of Cup will only be his second with SHR.
That leaves Chase Briscoe, who drives co-owner Tony Stewart's pressure-packed No. 14, and although Briscoe has shown promise, once Harvick goes, SHR loses its superstar, annual championship contender and heartbeat of the team.
In comes Berry, who may be light on NASCAR national-level racing experience, but he's a veteran who has clawed his way into Harvick's seat and may wind up filling a massive void at SHR.
“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,” said Earnhardt, who developed Berry and last year got him into a full-time Xfinity Series ride.
“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, and you get right into working on the championship part and winning races because he’s there mentally, professionally and in talent.”
Berry takes over as driver for a Rodney Childers-led group that won 37 races with Harvick including the 2014 Cup title. Berry has one full season of Xfinity Series racing, but he's parlayed an initial partial season with JR Motorsports into a full-time job with five victories in 76 career starts.
In his Cup Series starts as a substitute with Hendrick, Berry impressed the Hendrick group even before his second-place finish at Richmond as Elliott's early season fill-in.
“Kevin Harvick has obviously set a very high bar, but Josh brings maturity, experience and, above 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 was unsure the right time would ever happen for him, especially as a 19-year-old discovered by Earnhardt Jr., who offered Berry a late model test and persuaded 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 program won “over a hundred feature races and multiple track championships and the national title.” Earnhardt found a way to get Berry some Xfinity Series starts “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,” and Berry won at Martinsville in his 13th career start.
“I cried like if 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.
His worth has skyrocketed and Berry becomes a big addition to Ford, who lures a wanted commodity out of the Chevrolet camp. Berry is content with how long the path has taken him, even though he'll most certainly be the oldest candidate in next year's Cup rookie class. Cup seats these days go to very young drivers, and the rookie candidates typically are in their early 20s.
“I’m really proud of how I’ve gotten to this point and earned this opportunity,” Berry said. “I don’t like to use the word luck. It’s also been about preparation meeting opportunity. I wouldn’t change anything about how I got here. It made me who I am. Throughout my teenage years, it was a fight just to keep racing, to get to the next race.
“The timing of Dale and I getting together, that was crucial. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know that I would’ve ever raced a stock car, or how much more I would’ve raced at all, just because racing overextended us financially," Berry continued. "Those years of racing and winning, and the people I was around and worked with, prepared me for the opportunities that I’ve gotten, and they’ve prepared me to capitalize on this opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing. Even without knowing where it would ultimately take me, I’d do it all over again.”