Berry finishes in the top 10 in just his 2nd start with Hendrick Motorsports

There’s no doubt about it that this is Josh Berry’s chance of a lifetime. The Tennessee native has long wanted to be a NASCAR Cup Series driver. At his age, it’s hard to get opportunities like the one that he’s been given. Which is why my eyes are on him on Sunday.

Berry struggled in his Hendrick Motorsports debut last weekend in Las Vegas. He largely spent a majority of the race a lap down and finished 29th. While it was a steep learning curve to drive the Next Gen for the first time in a limited capacity and have no seat time in a Cup car prior, that free pass is only going to last so long.

HMS is the top dog in NASCAR and went 1-2-3 in a race that Berry was 29th. They combined to lead all but 21 laps. Now, it was to Phoenix and a second chance for Berry. While I’m not saying that he had to win Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500, or even finish in the top five, I’m saying he had to be solidly in the top 20, if not the top 15.

That’s exactly what he did. Berry started 17th and the team worked on his car all race. In the end, he was 10th in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his first top 10 finish in just his second start with the team.

“It was a really solid day for the No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Chevy team,” said Berry. “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. 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.”

Berry says the most notable thing he has to adjust to is the length of these races. His Late Model days are a couple hundred lap features. In the Xfinity Series, most races are between 200-300 miles. Sunday’s race was 312 laps.

“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,” Berry continued. “Toward 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, had the cautions there and we executed a couple of really good restarts there and was able to get a top 10.”

What’s more impressive is the fact that this track hasn’t necessarily been a strong place for him. While he was third in last year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, he was also 13th in the championship race and 36th in his only other NXS start on the 1-mile oval.

He delivered a strong finish on Sunday.

“I’m really impressed with today’s effort,” Jeff Gordon said of Berry. “I was on the 9 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.

“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 needed a solid finish.

“It was great to see Josh get that. That’s going to build his confidence. I don’t think anybody can explain how difficult a situation this is. I mean, an Xfinity car today could not be more opposite than what the Cup car is throughout the history that I can recall of those things being so different than they are today.

“To get out of an Xfinity car and hop into a Cup car that’s so different I think is a big, tall task. We put him in a bad situation last week. This week I saw him putting in the effort and the time, the sim, getting fitted in the seat, doing his homework. It really showed up.”

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