Berry, who competes fulltime in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, was tapped as the last-minute substitute for Elliott at Las Vegas, when Elliott suffered a broken left leg in a snowboarding accident prior to the race weekend.
While Berry, 32, had made two previous Cup starts in his career, none had come with the Next Gen car, which debuted in 2022. Trying to keep pace and dealing with a throttle issue, Berry ended up 29th and two laps down.
The Phoenix race weekend got off to a similar start with Berry struggling in practice and qualifying in the No. 9 Chevrolet but he seemed to find his rhythm in the race.
By late in Sunday’s event, he had worked his way into the Top 15 and after a chaotic two-lap overtime, ended the race 10th for his first Top 10 finish in the Cup series.
Josh Berry, Hendrick Motorsports, Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet Camaro, Alan Gustafson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Ben Earp / NKP / Motorsport Images
“We were able to improve a lot from what we had last week. We were able to stay on the lead lap basically the whole race,” Berry said. “We had a couple of runs in there that were really good. A couple runs where we fell back a little bit, but it’s just all part of a learning experience for me.
“These races are so long and I need to be able to learn this car a little bit better where I can give Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) a little bit better direction on how to help me. Towards the end, we found that we were a little bit on the free side of our better runs.
“At the end there, we were probably going to finish 15th or 16th, which I was still pretty happy with. Obviously (we) had the cautions there and we executed a couple of really good restarts there and was able to get a top-10.”
Berry’s late rally left all four Hendrick Motorsports cars in the Top 10 for the race with teammate William Byron capturing his second consecutive victory of the season.
NASCAR Hall of Famer and HMS vice chairman Jeff Gordon said he was “really impressed” with Berry’s performance on Sunday.
“I was on the No. 9 (pit) box most of the race. It didn’t start off so great. To see them just continue to work through changes on the car, changes of the track conditions, just continue to push forward,” Gordon said.
“Then he was mixing it up, man. On those restarts, he was right in the middle, three- and four-wide. I was a little bit nervous because they’re pretty deep in points and…
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