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"The Potential is There": Josh Berry, Stewart-Haas Racing Seeing Improvements; Excited for Martinsville

With top-15 finishes in each of the series' last two oval races, Josh Berry and Stewart-Haas Racing are making progress, heading into a strong track for both driver and team, Martinsville Speedway.


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Being handpicked as the successor to a proven NASCAR Cup Series race-winner and championship contender is never a simple undertaking, especially for a rookie driver, as the position comes with enormous shoes to fill and, more often than not, unrealistic expectations.

Josh Berry is the latest driver to undertake such a task, replacing 60-time NASCAR Cup Series winner Kevin Harvick as the driver of the No. 4 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2024, a ride the five-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner jumped head-first into with only 12 prior Cup starts.

While the start to Berry's rookie campaign hasn't been breathtaking - with no top-10 finishes on record in the first seven races of the year -- there have been several bright spots, all of which have provided a sense of optimism for Berry and Stewart-Haas moving forward.

In the series' two most recent oval races at Richmond and Bristol, the Hendersonville, Tennessee-native has picked up a pair of top-15 results, finishing 12th and 11th, respectively. Even though both finishes provided a jumpstart to the driver's season, with them came some disappointment, as Berry and crew chief Rodney Childers had worked diligently to have top-10, and at times top-five, speed.

"I think it's just a little bit of momentum building. We're working together figuring each other out a little bit more. I'm getting a little more comfortable getting reacclimated driving the NextGen car. But more than anything, I think we've just had good cars the last couple of weeks, I feel like, especially at the short tracks," said Berry on Tuesday. "It's just going to take time, man. I told Rodney not too long ago, Kevin [Harvick] was 800-and-something starts of racing, and I'm in the teens. It's going to take me a little be of time to get acclimated and to eliminate some of the mistakes that I've made at the start of the season."

More than anything, the raw speed shown on-track has provided momentum, something that Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole has been lacking in a major way the last couple of years, as the downturn in performance has seeped further into the framework of the organization -- something that Berry, along with teammates Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, and Ryan Preece have worked hard to finally begin the process of digging out of.

"But we're already seeing it. The potential is there. This speed can be there, we just gotta start executing now. Figuring out how to be more consistent, and I think we'll be fine."

This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series makes its first of two annual trips to the half-mile paperclip of Martinsville Speedway, a facility in which Berry has found a great deal of success throughout his racing career, both at a regional and national level.

In 2019, the now-33-year-old racer won the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, a prestigious Late Model event held at Martinsville Speedway. Two years later, after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. awarded him a part-time Xfinity Series deal for his clinching of the 2020 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Championship, Berry scored his first victory at the half-mile paperclip in just his 13th start in the second-tier series.

The accolades and experience collected throughout Berry's career at Martinsville make Sunday's Cook Out 400 a solid bet for the driver's first top-10 finish of the season, and should the trend of Stewart-Haas Racing bringing fast cars to the half-mile paperclip continue, maybe even his first NASCAR Cup Series victory.

"I'm definitely excited for it," Berry said when asked about Martinsville. "I feel like it should be another good really opportunity for us to run well. It seems like our cars have been good at the short tracks. We've run a couple of them now to build some notes and work off of some things. I think it should be a good opportunity to go run and see how good we are."

Regardless of the result for Josh Berry Sunday at Martinsville, good or bad, it appears things are finally trending in a positive direction for Stewart-Haas Racing, as the organization looks to return to its former glory in the NASCAR Cup Series with a trip to Victory Lane.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

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