Stewart-Haas Racing proudly announced Wednesday, June 21 the future of its No. 4 Ford Mustang, naming Josh Berry to the seat beginning in 2024. Berry will be entering his first full-season in the NASCAR Cup Series, carrying the torch passed off by future hall-of-famer Kevin Harvick.
The announcement was made at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where the media asked questions about the decision and the team‘s bright future ahead. In attendance were:
Tony Stewart, NASCAR Hall of Famer and Co-owner of Stewart-Haas RacingKevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas RacingRodney Childers, Crew Chief of the No. 4 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas RacingGreg Zipadelli, Chief Competition Officer for Stewart-Haas Racing
THIS IS INSIGHT INTO STEWART-HAAS RACING‘S FUTURE. TONY, TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHY WE ARE HERE TODAY?
TONY STEWART — “Yeah, we‘re obviously super excited to get to this moment today. There‘s been a lot of talk, a lot of speculation and a lot of questions of ‘What are we going to do now that Kevin‘s retiring?‘ So, that leads us to today. I‘ll be perfectly honest: This was not a big group of people that we had to make a choice from. We literally put all our eggs in one basket, and we put them on this kid to my left here with Josh Berry. He‘s somebody that we all feel like he‘s the right fit to step into the No. 4 car in the future, and we‘re all super excited to have him at Stewart-Haas Racing. We just left the shop a minute ago. Everyone at the shop is extremely excited — we‘re excited. To fill Kevin‘s shoes is a hard task, and we all are very confident off of Josh‘s merit and his maturity — everything he has done and all the positions he‘s put himself in shows that he‘s a smart race car driver, and that‘s exactly what we‘re looking for, for this No. 4 car.”
JOSH, DESCRIBE THIS MOMENT AND THE OPPORTUNITY THAT AWAITS YOU.
JOSH BERRY — “Obviously, this is a really special day for me, and it‘s special for a lot of people. First off, I have to thank everyone sitting up here with me for believing in me. Bringing me here to do this is such a special day. It‘s been a fun process over the last couple of months, getting to know these guys and working with them. I can‘t imagine a better opportunity for myself, to be full-time Cup racing with Stewart-Haas and headed for the No. 4 car. Our expectations are going to be simple: That‘s just to keep working hard and keep doing the things this group has been doing for years… working hard, believing in each other. We think that if we do the right things and stay the course, that the results will come. It‘s just a really special day for a lot of people in my life, and I‘m excited to be here. In the meantime, these guys have a lot of racing left to do this year as well. I‘m going to be excited to cheer on Kevin, Rodney and this whole group, as well as everybody at Stewart-Haas. Obviously on my side of things, I have a lot of racing to do myself with JR Motorsports. So, we‘re ready to get going.”
KEVIN, YOU‘RE THE CURRENT DRIVER OF THE NO. 4 FORD MUSTANG AND HAVE BEEN FOR A DECADE. YOU‘VE ACCOMPLISHED A LOT, INCLUDING A CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2014 AND 37 CUP VICTORIES WITH STEWART-HAAS RACING. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON JOSH BERRY TAKING OVER THE NO. 4 IN 2024?
KEVIN HARVICK — “Well, I‘m excited for everybody at this table. Honestly, I think as I look for people who can get in the car and fit with the group of people that I‘ve been fortunate to race with for the last 10 years, is something that was important to me, and to make sure Rodney, Greg and Tony all had somebody that they were comfortable with fitting into the group. Because, it‘s a special group of people. With the background Josh has and the background Rodney has… There are a lot of common denominators that really just make sense. I think I asked the question probably about a year ago if Josh was on that list, and I asked earlier this year — and here it is today, because I‘d talked to Rodney about it a lot and in those conversations, Josh was always the name that he just never wavered on. So, for me, it was fun to watch it progress. This year has kind of been interesting because I‘ve kind of tried to stand back and let these guys do more in working toward the future. To see it all come together makes me happy to know that everything is going to be in good hands.”
GREG, SHR HAS BEEN BLESSED WITH KEVIN‘S VETERAN LEADERSHIP, POISE AND MATURITY. EVEN THOUGH JOSH IS GOING TO BE A ROOKIE NEXT YEAR, THE TEAM STILL GETS THAT IN HIM. HOW IMPORTANT ARE THOSE CHARACTERISTICS TO THE OVERALL SUCCESS OF THE ORGANIZATION?
GREG ZIPADELLI — “Oh, it‘s huge. I mean, Kevin is leaving really big shoes to fill — no pressure, Josh. Honestly, Kevin‘s leadership over the last 10 years, his direction, has been instrumental to Stewart-Haas. I think we all thought that Josh has some of the same attributes within him. You look at his racing in the past, and where he‘s come from. He‘s always made himself successful in the right ways — racing hard, clean and like I said before, a lot of grit. I think he‘s going to fit in with our group well. We‘re all still a bunch of racers, and I think he fits right into our group in that way. I think Kevin mentions some of those things on how important it is that he fits in — just his philosophy in racing, I think it‘s in. Hopefully that makes the learning curve and the pressure that he‘ll have next year being full-time in Cup… I think it‘ll make a lot of that easier for him.”
RODNEY, YOU BUILT THE NO. 4 TEAM FROM SCRATCH AND HAVE ENJOYED ALL THE ACCOLADES WITH KEVIN THROUGH THE YEARS. NOW YOU‘RE IN THE POSITION OF BUILDING THE PROGRAM FOR THE FUTURE. HOW MUCH ARE YOU RELISHING YOUR CURRENT TIME WITH KEVIN, WHILE ALSO THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE WITH JOSH?
RODNEY CHILDERS — “Ten years have flown by in a hurry. To have the relationship that I‘ve had with Kevin the last 10 years, and to do the things that we‘ve done, you look back on some of those special moments of winning the championship, winning races and going on streaks of finishing in the top-five 10 races in a row or top-twos for eight races in a row — stuff like that. That‘s just something that‘s unheard of. Our whole group has been part of that, and it‘s just a special group from top to bottom — our shop guys, our pit crew, our road guys and just everybody involved. That part is extremely special to me. And then, it just goes to Josh. I think everybody knows that I‘m a Josh Berry fan, and I really think that‘s what some of this came down to. I told the shop guys at Stewart-Haas this morning that I wish they could all go back through his phone and count how many times that I text him saying if that guy could ever get the right opportunity, he‘s going to show something. It‘s just cool as crap today to see him up here with us, to be able to go racing with him and to have that same common goal. Also, I think everybody knows what relationships mean to me and what Kevin said, having someone that can fit in to that — someone that I can text 100 times a day like this guy beside me (Harvick), and he doesn‘t care. I think having that relationship and the common background, common goals is really important.”
TONY, CAN YOU DEFINE HOW JOSH FITS INTO THAT GRASSROOTS MENTALITY?
STEWART — “That‘s something that‘s a really big part of our DNA at Stewart-Haas Racing. It‘s 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. We got people there that care about race cars, and that‘s all they think about is racing. That‘s what this guy (Josh Berry) has done for years. He lives, eats and breathes racing, and that‘s all he wants to do aside from his family. But, 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 who just want to go win races and contend for championships. That‘s one of the many reasons why he‘s such a good fit for our organization right now.”
JOSH DOESN‘T BRING ANY SPONSORSHIP BUT HAS EARNED THIS FROM HIS HARD WORK AND MERIT. DOES HE REPRESENT THE THROWBACK CULTURE?
STEWART — “I am not interested in some kid‘s father coming and buying their way into the Cup series. I have zero interest in that. We want guys that earn their way, that work hard, that understand the values that 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. Josh has put the time, the effort, and every time he‘s got an opportunity, he‘s made the most of it. Those are the traits that championship drivers are built off of, not the easy ticket to get there. This guy has had to sit there every time he‘s made a change, he‘s had to make the most of it. That‘s why.”
JOSH: WHAT DOES THIS OPPORTUNITY MEAN TO YOU, ESPECIALLY EARNING IT OFF MERIT AND NOT HAVING TO BRING SPONSORSHIP WITH YOU?
BERRY — “It means a lot, that journey it took to get here. It was an amazing journey to get here racing late model stocks and Xfinity cars for JR Motorsports, and the success we had is something that I will forever look back on so fondly, enjoying those moments so much to get here. The reality of it, heading to the Cup series, is that nobody really cares what your path was to get there. I‘m ready for that challenge. I‘m ready for the opportunity that‘s ahead of me: To try to make a name for myself in the Cup series. I‘m proud of how I got here, but the work for 2024 starts today… and it started before today as well.”
DO YOU HAVE SPONSORS LINED UP FOR 2024, OR ARE YOU OPEN FOR ANY OPPORTUNITIES?
STEWART — “Right at this point, we are totally open. We‘re having discussions internally with current sponsors, and then we have a lot of potential sponsors that are interested in this program as well. So, nothing to announce on that side yet, but there are a lot of conversations going on right now.”
DID JOSH‘S APPEARANCES IN THE NO. 9 AND NO. 48 THIS YEAR FACTOR INTO THE TEAM‘S DECISION TO RECRUIT HIM, AND DID HIS FILL-IN ROLES DELAY THE PROCESS?
STEWART — “We made the decision before he was filling in, but it was great for us. We‘re sitting there in the back smiling: He was getting free track time on somebody else‘s dollar. But, it was good experience, and it really gave us a good opportunity. Any time you move somebody up in a division, you don‘t know until you see him in the car what they‘re going to do. It‘s obviously a risk, but we had made the decision internally, what our play was and what we wanted to do. It actually did a little bit. It was just out of respect for Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports, their partners and OEMs, making sure we weren‘t doing something that was going to disrupt the opportunity that Josh had to get laps and to do a good job without the headaches, hassles, and it being complicated. We tried to work together to make it as easy for him as possible.”
HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THIS MOVE FOR YOU, SPECIFICALLY INTO THE NO. 4 CAR AND WITH A CHAMPIONSHIP-CALIBER TEAM THAT HAS VOICED ITS CONFIDENCE IN YOU?
BERRY — “It really means a lot to have the support I‘ve had. Obviously, to get to this point, I knew that everybody at SHR and this group beside me believes in me and what I bring to the table. So, it‘s going to be a great challenge trying to fill the job that Kevin‘s done over the years. He‘s a future hall-of-famer, has won countless races and a championship. I‘ve been watching the races this year, and these guys have been running really well from what I‘ve been seeing. So, it‘s really encouraging for me, and exciting for me, to know I‘m going to get such a great group around me. I intend to do everything I can to try to keep that group together and excited to work with me. I know that I‘ll have some great support with Tony, Kevin and Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] as well as I transition to a full-time Cup driver. It‘s all great. Like I said, I really can‘t imagine myself going to a better opportunity.”
RODNEY, CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE RELATIONSHIP YOU AND JOSH HAVE AROUND LATE MODEL RACING?
CHILDERS — “On the late model side, you could see it from the very beginning. The very early days of going to Hickory and running on Saturday night to a year or two later of just completely dominating every time you went. And then, watching the CARS Tour racing and other things. It also goes along with doing things like he did at the Snowball Derby last year, going down there and maybe some people not expecting him to do a whole lot, then sits on the front-row and runs up-front all day. You could just always see it, from the very beginning. For me, I went through all that same stuff. You talk about making it on merit. He‘s kind of went about it the same way that I was trying to go about it, so I‘ve just always had a ton of respect for that. We both had great opportunities to get to where we are, and to be able to work together and to share some of that on the weekends of watching late model races and talking about that kind of stuff is kind of an ice-breaker in a way. It makes it fun. Hopefully, we can run some late model races together, too. That would be a lot of fun.”
WHAT CONVERSATIONS DID YOU HAVE WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR. ABOUT THE PROCESS, AND WHEN DID YOU TELL HIM THAT YOU WERE GOING TO TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY WITH SHR?
BERRY — “Dale and Kelley [Earnhardt Miller] have been there every step of the way throughout this process. They were fully aware of the opportunity that was potential in front of me, and they were in full support. They have supported me the whole way. Kind of like Tony said: This actually began before the season started. The opportunity and the timing that was presented with the No. 9 and the No. 48 was just kind of crazy to even think about. Dale was super helpful to me, as I navigated through that. Not only am I trying to race for a championship and compete for wins in the Xfinity series, but I‘m also filling in for Chase [Elliott] and Alex [Bowman] unexpectedly in a last-second scenario, especially the first week. Then, in the process of figuring out and negotiating my future. It was a lot, and Dale was a great asset to me through that — not only as a boss, but also just as a friend. I‘m definitely grateful for that, and I‘m grateful for everything they‘ve done for me over the years. We had an emotional meeting this morning at JR Motorsports with the whole company, as we let them know this news. It was just a special day for all of us that had a part in getting me here.”
FROM YOUR 2021 XFINITY SERIES WIN AT MARTINSVILLE TO NOW, COULD YOU HAVE ENVISIONED EARNING THIS OPPORTUNITY AS QUICKLY?
BERRY — “No… a lot has happened really quickly, right? Especially, in the last three years. You really think three years to the day, I‘m in the midst of the beginning, making a run to try and win the weekly series‘ national championship in late model stock — in the early weeks of that run. So, in three years I‘ve gone from racing a late model at Hickory to accepting and starting a journey in the Cup series with Stewart-Haas Racing. So, it‘s been a journey — without a doubt. I‘m just thankful. There have been so many moments over the last couple of years, but the win at Martinsville is really what I think changed my future and opened up opportunities. We were able to secure some funding and partnerships to get full-time Xfinity racing in, and I was also able to get some opportunities in other cars, trucks and whatnot along the way. That was really just the snowball that got everything going. It‘s been a lot of fun over the last couple of years, that‘s for sure. It‘s been a whirlwind.”
WHAT ADVICE OR WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG DRIVERS PURSUING A CAREER IN RACING, BUT LACKING FINANCIAL SUPPORT?
STEWART — “I‘d say the first thing is don‘t get discouraged if your parents aren‘t wealthy and can buy your way to the top. I think for young people, the biggest thing that I try to emphasize is to have fun doing what you‘re doing — no matter what level of motorsport you are in. A.) You have to have fun doing it, and B.) It‘s just working hard. Josh is proof. Kevin is proof. I‘m proof. Rodney is proof. Zippy (Zipadelli) is proof. Everybody up here is proof that if you work hard, you can get where you want to be. But, you have to put the work in, and the time and effort that it takes to do that. I really don‘t think people in general realize the sacrifices that people at this level need to make to get here. There are things that you sacrifice, that you either put on hold or you don‘t get to do in your life, because you‘re so dedicated to motorsports. That‘s what makes these top-tier people top-tier — the time and dedication that it takes. So, that‘s the advice I give to kids and their parents. We‘re in this era where we‘re seeing kids at 12-14 years old driving late models, which I think is ludicrous. I don‘t think there is any reason for it, and there‘s nothing they are going to miss waiting until they‘re 16 or 18 to get in full-size race cars. Their bodies are not mature, and their minds are not mature. I don‘t understand the rush. I want somebody who had to go through hard times, somebody who knows what it takes to go up and down the road, and that is mentally stable and understands what it takes to compete at this level. Knows how to sit there and not just go fast in the car, but know how to put the race together and know when it‘s time to push and when not to push. That‘s what has made Kevin so successful over all these years. He is, in my opinion, the smartest driver in the series right now. He has been for many years. He just knows how to put the whole race together. If it‘s not right, he gets to the end of the stint, gives Rodney a chance to make adjustments, and when it‘s time to push and when he can push, he does. You just don‘t see drivers that have that kind of savvy anymore. Josh is one of those guys that we do see that in. We know that he knows how to plan for the entire race, not just for the lap he‘s on.”
RODNEY: HOW SOON CAN YOU WORK WITH JOSH, AND WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?
CHILDERS — “I don‘t think I even know the answer to that yet. I think relationship building is the most important part. I think that‘s what helped Kevin and I the most going into 2014. We had a year of that relationship building it seemed like. I already think that the relationship I have with Josh is probably ahead of where I was when I first met Kevin, just because of talking about late models over the last five years. So, I think that‘s the biggest thing. We both have huge tasks on our hands — the rest of the year. We need to win races in the No. 4 car, and we need to make a run at the championship. That‘s our goal. He needs to do the same on the Xfinity side. So, we‘re going to keep it simple. I know from my standpoint, it‘s going to be staying in touch once a week and building on that relationship. But other than that, it‘s going to be focusing on our jobs that we have in trying to win races.”
KEVIN, HOW DO YOU KNOW JOSH IS MENTALLY PREPARED FOR THE NEXT STEP WHEN HE HAS LIMITED SEAT TIME IN CUP?
HARVICK — “Well, I think the best evidence is exactly what he did in the No. 9 and the No. 48, right? I mean, jumping into those cars when the seats don‘t fit, he doesn‘t know the people very well and being competitive and figuring it out. I think that‘s one of the more unique scenarios about Josh — he‘s a little bit older, has a family, and you don‘t need to teach him about life. There‘s a maturity factor that goes with life, and I think he‘s lived through some of the more important parts, had his face drug through the mud — all the things it takes to figure out that it‘s not easy, and that you have to work hard 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 at this. Because, if there is any piece of the circle that‘s being disrupted in that particular moment, it‘s going to disrupt everything. You can say that it doesn‘t, but it does. I think his maturity — you see what he does on the racetrack, but I think a lot of success in this particular division depends on what‘s happening outside of the race car. I think having experience to lean on — I know he leans on Dale a lot, and Dale is a great mentor to have because everything he has done was done at such a high level. To have that ability to pick up the phone is great, having people who can give you an honest opinion and tell you what they think, and you know they‘re telling you to try and help you. Having those assets and being willing to take those opinions, and apply them, is important. There are a number of things outside of the car that he demonstrates well when it comes to life in general, and you can have fun doing this, but it‘s way more fun if you win. In order to do that, you have to have everything else together.”
ARE YOU GOING TO BE STAYING AROUND IN A CONSULTING ROLE?
HARVICK — “We have a lot of things happening currently. I‘m here to help these guys, and I‘ll always be here to help from his (Childers‘) standpoint, and these two guys. But right now, from a management side, we have some other business things happening — CARS Tour, Keelan and everything we have going on. I don‘t have any plans from the team side of things.”
WAS FORD INCLUDED IN THE SELECTION PROCESS?
ZIPADELLI — “No. This was SHR courting, just because of what we believe in as everybody has mentioned up here. It‘s simply what Josh has accomplished and what we think he has to bring. No, there was none of that. We internally made the decision in the direction we were going, shared it with them and obviously they were excited and feel like he‘s a great talent for the future. There wasn‘t any strategic moves.”
— Ford Performance —