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Detailing why Josh Berry was the unanimous choice to replace Kevin Harvick

As long as his name remains on the masthead, Tony Stewart says the NASCAR Cup Series team he co-owns with Gene Haas will be the same one that was founded by racers, engineered by racers with cars piloted by racers every Sunday.

In this case, racer and driver is more than a semantic distinction, and one the three-time Cup Series champion articulated within minutes of the press conference on Wednesday afternoon confirming Josh Berry as the next driver of the No. 4 and taking over for the retiring Kevin Harvick.

“I am not interested in some kid’s father coming and buying their way into the Cup series,” Tony Stewart said. “I have zero interest in that. We want guys that earn their way, that work hard, that understand the values it takes to be a top-tier driver — not one that just got his high school diploma and now all the sudden he’s a Cup driver. I’ve got zero interest in that.”

Stewart says he wants to build a team of racers that didn’t get the easy ticket to the highest level. At 33-years-old and with only two Xfinity Series seasons behind him, the lifelong short tracker definitely took the grittiest and most unorthodox path possible to the Cup Series.

Berry will soon join new teammates, Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece, who share similar school of hard knocks backgrounds. Jeff Preece and Kevin Briscoe couldn’t write that check, neither could Kevin Berry, nor could longtime friend and benefactor Dale Earnhardt Jr. for that matter.

Earnhardt moved heaven and earth with the conviction that Berry should be racing somewhere, anywhere, at the highest levels of the sport. For the better part of a decade, Earnhardt gave Berry the platform to dominate Late Model Stock racing with the occasional Xfinity Series appearance, telling anyone who would listen that his guy was capable of racing on Sundays.

That conviction largely fell on deaf ears until the summer of 2020 when Berry and Earnhardt won the NASCAR Weekly Series national championship. JR Motorsports had just signed Sam Mayer, who at 17 years old wasn’t old enough to race the first half of that campaign and Earnhardt found the funding to fill the rest of the schedule with his chosen guy.

Berry won early that spring at Martinsville, splitting time between both the No. 8 car and the No. 1 once Michael Annett went down with a broken leg and missed the second half of the season, winning again at Las Vegas.

He was full-time last season and won three more races en route to the Xfinity Series Championship Race at Phoenix. Now, at last, the Cup Series garage had seen enough and deemed him one of the hottest free agents on the market.

The groundswell of enthusiasm had become so undeniable that Berry was the undisputed first choice to drive both the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 and 48 cars this spring when Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman went down with injuries. Jeff Gordon said Berry had a future on Sundays and the market responded accordingly.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks Josh Berry’s NASCAR move

josh berry nascar
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Earnhardt is losing Berry to another team, Wednesday was a very rewarding day and one that the two-time Daytona 500 winner had willed into existence over the past decade.

“Personally, it’s a big relief, because we have been waiting on this opportunity for Josh and it’s a big relief anytime you help someone achieve a goal like that,” Earnhardt said. “It’s going to be a challenge for him, it’s going to be hard work, but he’s going to have a lot of support and help, myself included to navigate all that.

“But it’s a good relief. It’s a happy, happy, happy day for me. It’s fun to watch Josh go through this and realize a dream. It’s a great moment for the sport to have stories like this develop.”

Not only did Earnhardt give Stewart and Harvick his blessing to pursue Berry, but he also recommended that Harvick sign Berry to his representation firm, KHI Management, noting that his friend and driver was operating this whole time without an agent.

Harvick believes Berry is the most obvious fit imaginable to take over his No. 4 for countless reasons. He says the ride requires maturity and experience but also the ability to communicate with crew chief Rodney Childers who shares an identical Late Model Stock background to the one Berry spent a decade dominating.

“You don’t have to teach him about life,” Harvick says. “There’s a maturity factor that goes with life. I think he’s lived through some of the most important parts and … all the things that it takes in order to figure out that it’s not easy and you have to work hard. You have to have your ducks in a row and be able to have that circle of life well put together around you in order to be successful.

“I think a lot of this success in this division depends on what’s happening outside of the race car. There are a lot of things outside the car that he demonstrates well when it comes to life in general.”

For his part, Childers, who engineered the 2014 championship with Harvick, says he wouldn’t have stayed on top of the pit box if it wasn’t for a driver like Berry.

“It was kind of a life moment for me, because if it wasn’t somebody like Josh that I truly believed in, I wouldn’t have kept doing it (being a crew chief),” Childers said. “I would have just walked away and did some kind of management role or whatever and spend more time with my wife and kids on the weekends.”

Childers is also a racer who embodies the spirit of the organization as it was defined by Stewart. He spent the better part the 90s racing Late Model Stocks, and got a handful of NASCAR Busch Series chances, but never found the funding needed to race on Sundays.

In Berry, Childers has someone he believes in but also can live vicariously through.

“I have been such a huge fan of his over the past seven or eight years because of the way he went about it,” Childers said. “He didn’t have a lot of money and made it off winning races and just working hard. He does everything the right way and it just makes it meaningful for me to take this next step with him.”

Because, full-circle, everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing views Berry as a quintessential racer and that’s what the Stewart portion of the masthead says the organization is all about.

“Stewart-Haas Racing is not about guys that just come in, spend their time during the day and when the clock gets to the point where it’s time to leave, they all just bail out of there,” Stewart says. “We’ve got people there that care about race cars.

That’s all they think about is racing. That’s what this guy (Berry) has done for years. He lives, eats, breathes racing, and that’s all he wants to do aside from his family, so that’s what we want. That’s the DNA we want. That’s what our culture at SHR is built around, a bunch of people that just want to go win races and contend for championships.”

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

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