NASCAR Cup Series
Kyle Larson Emerges as Winner at Richmond; First Win of 2023 Season
Apr 2, 2023
Following a runner-up finish Sunday at Richmond Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon believes Josh Berry has a bright future in NASCAR's top series.
For the past few seasons, Josh Berry has been turning heads competing for JR Motorsports on the short track level and in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The 32-year-old driver from Hendersonville, Tenn., is seen as an old-school racer, cutting his teeth on short tracks, similar to the days of old.
When Chase Elliott was sidelined with a broken leg following the second race of the 2023 season, Hendrick Motorsports named Berry the substitute driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet for the majority of events until Elliott’s return.
In his four starts so far in the No. 9 Chevy, Berry has impressed many with one top-five and two top-10 finishes. On Sunday at Richmond Raceway, he was able to drive to a second-place finish behind teammate Kyle Larson, delivering a 1-2 finish for Hendrick Motorsports.
Thanks to a bit of strategy and a well-timed caution, Berry found himself at the front of the field and in contention over the final few runs of the day after working his way from a 30th-place starting position and recovering from a spin on Lap 96 of 400.
“Man, this is really cool. I have to give all the credit to this NAPA team. Tom (Gray, interim crew chief), Alan (Gustafson) remotely, of course, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. They made some great calls,” Berry said after climbing from the car.
“When we got some clean track, we weren't running bad lap times. I'm so glad they tried something different to get us there at the end,” he said. “Felt like we were decent the whole time. Just getting in cleaner air. We were free to run with Kyle. Man, what a huge day.”
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."
Despite his low number of starts in the NASCAR Cup Series (at this time just six total), teammate Kyle Larson knew he would have to beat one of the best short track racers in the country if he wanted to score the victory, and Berry kept him on his toes.
“I could tell that first restart he -- and myself both. That was the first time I restarted on the front row on the inside. We both kind of under-drove, (Turn) One, and I got clear of him pretty easy. So we got that quick caution. I was, like, ‘dang, now he knows how much further he can run the corner and all that.’ He did a much better job that second time, and I had to work a lot harder to get clear of him off of two,” Larson said after his first win of the 2023 season.
With his runner-up finish Sunday in Richmond, Berry became the first driver since Kasey Kahne in 2004 to earn a top-two finish in the first six starts of their NASCAR Cup Series career.
Hendrick Motorsport Vice Chairman and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Jeff Gordon was impressed with Berry’s ability to manage the car and handling throughout the length of Sunday’s race, especially taking care of the tires throughout the course of the runs.
“When you look at his lap times, he is a guy that he gets in there, he feels the car out, he 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,” said Gordon. “And every time I'm scanning, I kept hearing by the end of the run, ‘Hey, those lap times are really good. Hey, those lap times are similar to the leaders'.
“So, he 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,” he added.
While Berry has proven his skills and merit behind the wheel of many different types of cars from late models to the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Gordon indicated it was important to get him in the mix with other teams and drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series to see how well he could handle the challenge with limited experience.
Based on the early success so far in 2023 filling in for Elliott, Gordon - and many others - are certainly impressed with Berry and his ability to adapt and succeed when the pressure is on in the biggest moments.
“I think he's got a future in the Cup Series,” said Gordon.
NASCAR Cup Series
Josh Berry, Jordan Taylor to Fill-in for Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Team in Elliott's Absence
Mar 6, 2023