CONCORD, N.C. – As the checkered flag came out to signify the end of Richmond Raceway’s first event of the season, Josh Berry followed closely behind race winner Kyle Larson to bring home a runner-up finish.
The start was Berry’s fourth in the NASCAR Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports and a career-best for the Hendersonville, Tennessee, native. After the race, the gravity of his accomplishment began to set in as he took to Twitter to thank everyone for their support.
Berry has served as the primary fill-in driver of the No. 9 entry for Hendrick Motorsports on ovals as Chase Elliott recovers from a successful surgery on a fractured tibia suffered during a snowboarding accident in early March. Berry has been the driver at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. A top-10 finish at Phoenix saw him become the seventh driver in the last 15 years to score a top 10 within his first four Cup Series starts. Road racing standout and IMSA champion Jordan Taylor subbed for the team at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.
Berry’s Cup Series endeavors over the weekend did not get off to a strong start. With rain hovering over Southern Virginia for most of Saturday, practice and qualifying were cancelled. Not only would the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet start 30th (based on the metric used to set the qualifying order), but Berry began the race without turning a lap on the circuit in the Next Gen car.
As stage one began, Berry was spun out in the exit of turn four. Despite the incident, the No. 9 entry received no significant damage and continued on as he tried to recover track position. Throughout the race, he continued to make his way through the field, even breaking into the top 15 late in the final stage.
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As the final round of green flag pit stops began, interim crew chief Tom Gray chose to keep his driver on the track while those around him pitted. While Berry would be giving up time to the field on pace, the move saved him a pit stop and kept a fresh set of tires for future use. On lap 373, the caution flag came out with Berry in the fourth position, allowing him to pit with the leaders and utilize his final set of tires. Under the yellow, quick work on pit road from the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts crew bumped their driver into second place with 21 laps to go. Although he was unable to make his way past Larson, Berry impressed plenty with a runner-up finish. His second-place result matches the best result for the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team this season.
"This is really cool. I have to give all the credit to this NAPA team. Tom, Alan (Gustafson, full-time crew chief) remotely, of course, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports," Berry said after the race. "What a huge day. You know, to come here and start in the back. No practice, no qualifying. Get spun out. Work through the field like that. Second place, it's pretty cool."
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Among those taking note of the result was Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon. In a post-race press conference, Gordon offered high praise to Berry.
"He clearly knows how to manage tires and manage a race well," Gordon said. "It seems like the longer the race, the better he does. We're really happy with the job that he has done.
"Everybody has known his talent watching him in other forms of racing, late models, and the (NASCAR) Xfinity Series. You have to put him in other cars with other teams and other people to really see how far he could take it. I think he’s got a future in the Cup Series."
Larson, who battled with his teammate late in the race for the victory, was quick to not only offer platitudes for Berry, but also describe what a solid teammate he has been while filling in for Elliott.
"He's an extremely good race car driver and a great short-track racer," Larson said. " ... He has done a phenomenal job filling in. It's been nice to have him a part of the debriefs. I feel like he describes his car really well."
Berry’s run on Sunday was the capstone of a successful on-track weekend. Driving for Hendrick Motorsports affiliate JR Motorsports in Saturday afternoon’s Xfinity Series race, he paced the field for 63 laps on his way to a third-place result. The 32-year-old currently sits fifth in the regular-season points standings in the Xfinity ranks.