CONCORD, N.C. – Josh Berry is focused on helping the No. 9 team at Hendrick Motorsports as best he can while Chase Elliott is out.
Berry, who drives for Hendrick Motorsports affiliate JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, was tabbed on Tuesday to fill in for Elliott at upcoming oval tracks. Jordan Taylor will compete for the team in two weeks at Circuit of The Americas – the season’s first road course.
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Elliott suffered a fractured tibia while snowboarding in Colorado on March 3 and underwent successful surgery that evening. The 2020 champion was released from the hospital on Saturday and is currently rehabilitating in Colorado. The recovery for the 27-year-old is expected to last approximately six weeks.
"It’s still a really difficult situation and we are thinking about Chase (Elliott)," Berry told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. "His health is most important and we want him to get back healthy as soon as possible. Thankful, in the meantime, for the opportunity to fill in for him on the ovals."
Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway marked the 32-year-old Hendersonville, Tennessee, native’s first in the Next Gen car and he finished 29th due to a throttle issue. He had made two Cup Series starts in 2021.
"I know the run was disappointing. It might not have been what we all dreamed of, but I think we all left there knowing there was potential," Berry said of the last-minute Vegas start. "Thankfully, Hendrick Motorsports, all the partners on the 9 car, Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and that whole group believe in me and want to continue to work with me, help me improve and get some good finishes."
Gustafson will provide a steadying presence atop the pit box for Berry. The veteran crew chief has four wins at Phoenix Raceway with four different drivers: Kyle Busch in 2005, Mark Martin in 2009, Jeff Gordon in 2011 and Elliott in 2020. His four victories are tied with Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition Chad Knaus for the second-most among crew chiefs in the Cup ranks at the 1-mile track.
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Berry has won five races in 65 starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The 2023 season marks his second full-time year in the series and he reached the Championship 4 in his first year. In 2020, he was crowned the NASCAR Weekly Series National Champion.
Wasting no time trying to get assimilated to his fill-in role, Berry was in the simulator early this week prepping for Phoenix.
"He’s putting everything that he has into this," team president and general manager Jeff Andrews told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio of Berry. "That’s one of the reasons we went after him and made the decision to put him in there. We knew how he would approach it. We knew what his outlook would be towards it. We are going to do our best to take this opportunity to help Josh show his talent and that he is capable of being in NASCAR’s top series."
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This weekend’s race at Phoenix will offer Berry some extra track time. There will be a 50-minute practice session to shake down the new short oval and road course rules package that will debut in Arizona. This will result in a decrease in downforce on those tracks. Having more seat time to get acclimated to the car and the team can only aid Berry in his quest to produce solid finishes for the group.
"All the additional track time is definitely going to help," Berry said. "The Hendrick (Motorsports) cars were really strong last week (at Las Vegas) and I’m sure they will be really strong at Phoenix as well. It is a great opportunity for us to work together a little bit more and get me a little more comfortable."
Berry noted that Elliott has been extremely encouraging and a good friend to him over the years dating back to their shared time at JR Motorsports.
"Chase has been really supportive of me in this opportunity and that has meant a lot as well," Berry said. "We are just going to keep digging. There’s no reason why we can’t have a good run this weekend."
Tune in to watch Berry race at Phoenix on Sunday, March 12, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).