Wood Brothers finds ‘natural fit’ for next NASCAR chapter in Josh Berry

One of the sport's most storied teams finds a driver that represents the roots of the industry

NASCAR: Cup Practice & Qualifying
Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, the decision to replace Harrison Burton with Josh Berry next season isn’t a matter of finger pointing from Wood Brothers Racing.

They ultimately concluded it was a matter of chemistry, circumstances and timing and NASCAR’s oldest team owed it to their partners to see if a fresh combination could trigger increased performance.

At the same time, Berry and the way he carries himself was just a ‘natural fit’ as team president Jon Wood articulated it on Wednesday. They spoke to Chase Briscoe because of the Ford affiliation but always felt pretty strongly about Berry and what he could provide the organization.

Eddie Wood, the chief executive officer of the team, expounded on that point.

“Basically, like Jon said, we had to talk to Chase first because he had a relationship with Ford Motor Company, Ford Performance, through the development series that went back a number of years,” said Eddie. “So, that didn’t seem like that was going to work out.

“He already had an offer when the got there, but we had Josh in the back of our mind anyway and when everything unfolded like it did, we were just really excited to get to talk to Josh and we didn’t waste any time doing it.  I think we met the Monday after Sonoma, which was right away, and it was a real easy process.  We’re just happy that he’s with us.”

For Berry, this checks a lot of boxes too, in that he gets to remain with Ford after establishing a positive working relationship this season but also in what might be good equipment due to the Wood Brothers relationship with Team Penske.

“I feel like this is a great fit,” Berry said. “I’ve really enjoyed my relationship with Ford and to continue that on was something that’s important to me and I appreciate and I’m thankful to have that opportunity. It just really means a lot to drive an iconic car like the 21.  I feel like it’s a great opportunity for me.  I feel ready to provide results and I think that, all in all, it’s going to be a great relationship.”

So then, the obvious question becomes, if this Penske affiliation is so prominent, why hasn’t it worked out for Burton?

“We need to be better,” said Jon Wood. “There’s no secret in that. This is a business that’s based on chemistry and it’s a sport that’s based on results and, right now, we’re just not having those results. If Harrison shares some of the responsibility, if it’s on us, we’re not pointing fingers.

“We’re not here to say this one is at fault or that one is at fault, we’re just not where we need to be.  Finding that right chemistry and balance to have those results in performance, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Eddie Wood likened it to a football team that looks good on paper but doesn’t meet the expectations on the field for some reason.

“You can have the greatest people in the world and it not work,” said Eddie. “You can’t really figure out why. I used to make fun of people when they would say, ‘Well, the chemistry is not working.  You need this and that.’

“I believe that now, especially with this race car. This race car is so different from what we grew up with and worked and raced all our life. It’s just so different. We used to go to Talladega and Daytona four times during the winter just to get ready for the 500.

“You would be there four days each to gain one-tenth, and you felt like you had done something if you did that. Then you’d go home and cut the body off and do all that.  Now, it’s like you race speedways every week.  Road courses, short tracks, everything matters.  Everything on the cars matter.  Where you are.  Your track position, pit crews, the tiniest thing matters and there’s no leeway.  You used to have a little bit of a cushion.  If you got a little bit behind you could make it up in the pits or sometimes change two tires versus four.  There was always a way, but now you’ve got to do it all right all day long and when things aren’t working and, like I said, we’ve struggled.  We can’t figure it out, either.  It’s really hard.”

They’ve made crew chief changes.

Jeremy Bullins came to the No. 21 from the Penske 2 with a swap for Austin Cindric for crew chief Brian Wilson. It hasn’t really made a difference for either car. Cindric won the race at Gateway and combined with a Daytona 500 win and familial relationships, that isn’t a change that will be made.

So next, was trying a new driver.

“It’s just hard,” said Eddie Wood. “People get with other people and it clicks and you don’t know why, but if you’re one of the fortunate ones when you get together with a group and it clicks, you don’t ask why, you don’t care.  It’s just a really hard sport right now.”

No one knows that more than Berry, who spent 10 years trying to break into NASCAR, finally reaches Cup at 33 only to have the team that just signed him to a multiyear deal close at the end of the season. And through it all, Berry has started to contend for wins over the past month.

So can he make a difference in the 21?

“What I have learned this year is, and I think they spoke on it, how important the culture is and the fit and the belief between the driver and the crew chief and the ownership and the management and the team,” Berry said. “That’s what I’ve learned the most about this year is how important that is and that’s just another layer, to me, that I’ve learned to appreciate and understand, and I think now we’re going to attack this together and go through and make whatever changes or no changes that we feel we need to make to give me what I need and give us what we need to go be competitive.

“Really, that’s the extent of it, but everyone was very clear to me that they wanted to get this part first.  They wanted my commitment first before they went to building around me and I appreciated that and understood it.”

So while Rodney Childers doesn’t seem like an obvious fit to join his current driver at Wood Brothers, the door isn’t closed on it either.

“They came to me and said, ‘Hey, we want to get you signed up first,’” Berry said of conversations with the Woods. “We want to get our driver that we want and then we’re going to go to work with you and whoever else that we’re going to meet with, whether that’s at Team Penske or wherever and try to iron this out and figure out what’s the best fit.”

NASCAR: NASCAR Cup Series Championship
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If Berry works with someone else next year, it’s no different in his eyes than 2023 when he worked with four different crews across both his Cup and Xfinity programs.

“I think I’ve grown tremendously in that area,” Berry said. “Working with several different guys, I think I have a much clearer picture. When I first sat in and got in an Xfinity car I didn’t really have a clear picture on what I needed as a driver or what I wanted necessarily.  I was kind of just happy to be there in a way, and now after working with several different guys I think I have a clearer picture of what I’m looking for and I think that will help us through the process.

“Like I said earlier, we’re going to work together through this and find the right fit.  Everybody is going to have a fair opportunity at figuring out what we want to do, but I feel like I have a good understanding and I think that should help the process too.”

And most importantly, Berry can just focus on building a Cup Series program over the next three to four years, even if he says he didn’t carry too much anxiety about the process. A lot of that is a reflection of agents Kevin Harvick and Josh Jones, too.

“Getting an opportunity to go drive in the Xfinity Series and now the Cup Series, I’m still really grateful to be here and have this opportunity,” Berry said. “I enjoy doing this and I think back to who I was five years ago and to tell that person that I would be sitting here with Len and Eddie Wood and Jon and getting ready to go drive the 21 car I wouldn’t believe it, just like I wouldn’t have believed that I was replacing Kevin Harvick.

“At this point I feel like anything is possible and I feel like my resume even outside the race car has helped me tremendously and in the race car as well, and I just feel like even through all this I felt like if we just went out and performed, everything would take care of itself.

“Obviously, I have a ton of great supporters with Josh Jones and Kevin Harvick at KHI Management and everything we’ve worked through I felt confident that if I just went and did my job, that things would work out and thankfully they did.”

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

Mentioned in this article:

More About: