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Josh Berry, Chase Briscoe dish on the vibes at Stewart Haas ahead of 2024 NASCAR season

SHR is suddenly a NASCAR underdog these days

NASCAR: Coke Zero Sugar 400
Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the figurative day, Stewart Haas Racing will ultimately be judged based on its performance but everyone within the organization is also viewing this as the start of a new era.

For one, Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola have retired from the NASCAR Cup Series, and have been replaced by Josh Berry and Noah Gragson respectively. Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece still carry a tremendous amount of promise but have yet to reach it as the organization has hit a rut over the past three years.

First, it was the parts freeze of 2021 and then various hurdles with the NextGen car over the past two seasons. It’s hard to put any of that on the driver lineup for reasons best articulated by veteran crew chief Drew Blickensderfer earlier in the month.

“All of our drivers can win races,” Blickensderfer told SiriusXM. “We didn’t have race cars last year that Kevin Harvick could win in. That as a company we need to fix. We are going to judge ourselves on that so we need to make our cars faster to help these young guys and the whole company.”

But a culture shift can’t hurt either, so the team has rebranded its front facing logo and redecorated the shop in its new colors. The new drivers have spent a lot of time together and with their crews with everyone seemingly hitting it off.

Briscoe says ‘there is a lot of laughing’ at the team building in Kannapolis, North Carolina and during NASCAR content day last week as well.

“Noah keeps it funny for sure,” Briscoe told Sportsnaut while racing the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. “And even Josh, which has been really interesting because I didn’t know him well at all, but he has been super easy to get to know. I’m really excited to race with these guys.

“It’ll be different when we start to race each other and that’s why it’s really important to get our communication down but it’s been smooth sailing this past month. I really think this season is going to be fun.

“I keep telling people that Noah reminds me so much of Clint (Bowyer) so we’ve gone back to have a miniature version of Clint in the building again, which is like really good for our culture.”

Berry says the social media clips are genuinely representative of how much fun they’re having together right now.

“I think so,” Berry told Sportsnaut at a Late Model race in Georgia over the weekend. “We have been spending a lot of time with each other as part of creating this new direction with Stewart Haas.

“We work out together and we’ve done a lot of events together. We want to start communicating well and working together. That’s been intentional. Obviously, I’m closest to Ryan because we’ve share similar (short track) backgrounds but it’s been very fun to get to know everyone.”

Berry will technically be a Cup Series rookie this year even after making 10 starts last year in substitute roles at two Hendrick Motorsports entries and at Legacy Motor Club. He was signed to his first full-time deal in June to take over for Harvick in the No. 4 with veteran crew chief Rodney Childers.

“Yeah, definitely, as everything has picked back up the past few weeks and that makes it seem more real,” Berry said. “At the same time, I know what I’ve been doing for so long that I’ve been able to embrace it and adjusted to it as well.

“I feel really prepared.”

On the other hand, Briscoe is kind of the old guy at SHR now …

“I’m not the oldest guy there,” he interjected with a laugh when presented the narrative.

Sure, Briscoe (29) is younger than Preece (33) and Berry (33) but he also has the longest tenure at the company, having taken over the No. 14 car at the start of the 2021 season. The point is that the team no longer has those two decades long veterans in Harvick and Almirola and it may be up to both Preece and Briscoe to provide stability as Berry and Gragson grow into their roles as Cup drivers.

“We don’t have that obvious voice of reason for sure yet,” Briscoe said. “Aric and Kevin had seen it all and we relied on them to steer the ship when things went poorly. So, someone is going to have to be that voice and how you navigate that process is going to be really important for our company.”

Tony Stewart, who co-owns the team with Gene Haas, best summed-up the mission for the entire organization last week during a company-wide meeting.

“We’ve all got a lot of work to do,” Stewart said. “We’re looking up the hill. We’re not at the top of the hill looking down anymore, we’re at the bottom of the hill looking up, and this is the group of people that can get us where we need to be.

“But I’m excited about what we have on tap. I think we got a group of drivers that, for the first time, all truly want to work together to make each other better.”

Berry says the vibes are optimistic and determined.

“I think, for us, I feel really good about our group,” he said. “Everyone is really motivated right now. They’re working hard to get better. Stewart Haas knows they didn’t have the season they wanted last year and they’re motivated to get better and are using this driver lineup as a chance for a new start.

“For me, I’m just taking it all in and trying to be as prepared as I can be for the opportunity.”

Like Blickensderfer said, having cars that even a future first ballot Hall of Famer couldn’t win in was a significant problem but it was also one that took a lot of edge off Briscoe and keeps him feeling level headed ahead of 2024.

“In my situation, not winning and running up front like we were wanting to, it would have been a completely different narrative if Kevin was winning five or six races because he has always been our benchmark,” Briscoe said. “It made it easier to not beat myself up too hard because when Kevin couldn’t get the job done, it’s not entirely on you.

“At the same time, there’s no denial at the shop. We can all get better but we need to get our stuff better, but that also has to start internally and that’s why we started the new year with changing the culture, the colors and our fundamentals.

“It’ll be exciting to see if that kind of moves the needle as far as all the little things teams need to do with how close the competition is at the Cup level right now.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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