A late-race gamble Sunday at Richmond just looked like desperation for Josh Berry. The Hendrick driver, subbing for Chase Elliott in the 9 car, and Michael McDowell stayed out when the rest of the field pitted under green in the final fifty laps. He was soon overtaken by leader William Byron due to tire falloff.
But then he got much needed caution when Tyler Reddick spun with 26 laps to go. After a good pit stop, he restarted second alongside Kyle Larson.
Despite a strong battle in the closing restarts, Berry wasn’t able to get the lead, which would’ve been the first win for a sub driver since Jamie McMurray in 2002.
He said he didn’t doubt the call, even when a caution didn’t seem likely.
“I absolutely loved it,” he said. “I thought we had some good pace at times, we needed some clean air, and we thought outside the box. And that’s what it takes to win these races.”
“If you do the same thing that everybody around you does, then you’re going to finish with them,” he added. “We made a bold call – a couple of bold calls. But the pit crew was amazing today too, real credit to this team.”
Berry had an up-and-down race, starting back in 30th after qualifying was canceled and set through a points metric that didn’t benefit the substitute driver who didn’t run last week. It forced him to climb through the field and battle cars throughout. And then on lap 96 he was spun after Ryan Blaney, also trying to charge up the field because of a penalty, got into the back of him.
“We were struggling a little bit,” he said, “we were back in the pack, and Blaney was coming through the field and just got into us. It happens.”
“We just needed to be upfront earlier. You’d like to think you could qualify better than 30th. If we could’ve started better and run upfront I think I could’ve given myself some more opportunities there. But all-in-all, I’ll take second place.”
Hendrick executives Jeff Gordon congratulated him after the race, along with Chad Knaus, which Berry appreciated.
“That means a lot. Jeff Gordon was my hero back in the day, it’s pretty amazing, man… To be able to drive for the guy and finish second place, that’s really just exceeding my expectations.”
“I’ve just been very fortunate to race like I’ve had and have the support that I’ve had. In three years I went from racing late models and everything to racing in the top three series again to finishing second at Richmond.”
He said run like Sunday definitely builds his confidence, and he hopes to translate Cup Series success to his full-time Xfinity Series career.
“It helps a lot,” Berry said. “It’s just hard, these races are really hard, with the best racers in the world. I knew that was going to be tough.”
It was also a good day for the team, as teammate Kyle Larson won.
“Happy for Kyle and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports,” Berry said. “I’ve been really lucky to be in this car.”
As for the Hendrick drivers in whose seat he sits, he said Chase Elliott has been helpful throughout the process and has guided him while recuperating.
“Chase has been great,” said Berry. “He played a big part in giving me this opportunity and he’s been really supportive of me. We’re all thinking about him and want him to be back soon.”
All in all, “this opportunity for me has exceeded my expectations.”