Two months before the NASCAR Cup Series returns to action at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the new crew chief and driver pairing for the Stewart Haas Racing No. 4 team have already accumulated a month of experience together.
While the rest of the industry off-seasons in Mexico or wherever their favorite beaches reside, Josh Berry and Rodney Childers have been racing Late Model Stocks together across the Carolinas the past three weeks.
Fall Brawl at Hickory Motor Speedway
South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway
Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park
The discipline is a shared passion of theirs and it is a core tenet behind their pairing in the first place. Berry, who is now represented by Kevin Harvick Inc., was hand-selected by Harvick to replace him at the No. 4 upon retiring last month at Phoenix Raceway.
Harvick also owns the Late Model Stock Berry and Childers have taken across the region over the past month.
While a tremendous amount of fun to two old-school racers who both came up the Late Model Stock ranks, this is also part of an autumn plan for Childers and Berry to build chemistry in advance of their first season together at the highest level of the discipline.
It’s going well!
“I think the biggest thing is just, you know, how we talk and how we communicate,” Childers told Sportsnaut on Saturday at Southern National. “Another part is just being around each other and getting to be friends better, getting that relationship and trust going.”
Childers has always been a fan of Berry’s over the past decade while he was racing Late Model Stocks for JR Motorsports, and then even more so the past two years in the Xfinity Series, but this is the first time they have been able to spend dedicated time in the shop and at the track together.
“There is still a lot to talk about before the cup season, but this was a good Kickstarter and honestly a lot of fun for both of us. You know how much fun we have with Late Model Stocks.”
For Berry, it’s kind of ironic in a way that for a guy who has won dozens of races over the past decade, to actually not win anything the year before the biggest break of his career in getting a call to go Cup racing with one of the most decorated units in NASCAR.
It was circumstantial of course, in that Berry didn’t make a lot of Late Model starts this year, and his Xfinity Series season didn’t match the successful campaign from the year prior. From that standpoint, the past month as also been a way for Berry to unwind with something fun between what is expected to be two stressful NASCAR seasons on both sides of it.
“I’ve had such an up and down year so I think to come out here and run these races and kind of turn the page a little bit, take some time off and also get to work with Rodney has been fun but also helpful,” Berry said. “There is a lot to learn about each other, even in these races, but this has been a fun environment and a good opportunity for us both to do this.”
Berry had the good fortune to make 10 starts last year, seven with Hendrick Motorsports across both the 9 and 48 cars, but also two in the Legacy Motor Club No. 42. That was invaluable experience with a Cup Series platform that is now radically different than anything in NASCAR history.
“I don’t know that I feel completely comfortable with every part of it,” Berry said of the car. “But I do feel like that between my experience last year and just the prep I’ve been exposed to the last couple years, I have a good understanding of aero between the NextGen, Xfinity and Trucks.
“So next year is going to be about learning and applying that. I thought I did really good with that in my limited starts this past year. I raced better than I practice and qualified.
“I think I still need to get up to speed quicker, practice and qualify better, because that’s still really important. Track position is so important in these races. I feel good about all of it because Kevin, Rodney and the 4 guys had really good speed so I do think we can get off to a good start next year.”
Harvick went winless in his last season, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort or the work of Childers, as the No. 4 car was by far and away the best team across a winless Stewart Haas Racing operation. All the Ford teams will use a new body next season, the Mustang Dark Horse, but Childers expressed confidence that the company will be able to maximize the platform.
He also thinks success and challenges are way more dynamic than just the body and aerodynamics.
“The Cup Series is just so up and down,” Childers said. “When you think back to what, 2018, when we were just destroying everyone all year and then we got off on motor towards then end of thay year and Hendrick picked off some stuff from RCR and picked-up 20 horses and we couldn’t run with them anymore.
“Doug (Yates) is real quiet about that stuff and I don’t know what he gauned or what what he didn’t this past year, but it sure seemed like all of our cars got better around the playoffs and it didn’t change our cars much at all.
“So what I mean is that there’s going to be ebbs and flows, and this stuff is going to go up and down, and you have to race week-to-week and just race it out. I will say, we’ve built new bodies before and they haven’t always worked out but hopefully this one works out.”
All told, Berry is just excited as possible to be joining Stewart Haas and Childers, who with Harvick won 37 times and claimed the 2014 championship in the No. 4 car. Their resumes speak for itself and now Berry gets to plug-and-play inside of that culture.
“It’s my rookie year and I know there are going to be some rough days but we’re already working hard to make sure there’s more good than bad,” he said. “I know they found some things at the end of the year and Ford is excited about the new body and really feel like that’s going to be a good thing.
“But overall, the pieces with this team are there, right? This car has been an evolution and they’re constantly learning things but we just have to keep piecing those things together now that I’ve joined them.”
And make no mistake, Childers is as independently competitive as anyone, for his own sake.
But so much of working with Berry is about what getting him to Victory Lane would mean for grassroots motorsports on the whole. Once upon a time, Childers himself is what Berry was in a highly respected Late Model Stock driver who just couldn’t break through and get the call to race consistently at the highest level.
Berry found Dale Earnhardt Jr., who never wavered that Berry ‘was a Cup Series driver in search of a Cup Series owner,’ and now that’s all come together with Harvick, Childers, Tony Stewart and Gene Haas.
“I want to get Josh in Victory Lane at the Cup Series level,” Childers said. “We know he’s got speed and we just got to work on his qualifying, the track position matters so much, and laying down consistent laps, being the right kind of aggressive on restarts and I think he can go out and do all of that.
“It’s going to be a learning curve for both us but we’re all willing to make it work and we’re excited to be racing together.”
Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.