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Kevin Harvick Comes to His Successor’s Defense Calling Out Tony Stewart and Co’s Costly Blunders

Published 05/15/2024, 10:39 AM EDT

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For a team that’s already struggling, mistakes can prove costly. And who knows it better than Stewart-Haas Racing’s rookie driver, Josh Berry. When the 33-year-old took over the reins from retired Cup champion Kevin Harvick, all eyes were on him for a promising debut season. However, that hasn’t been the case. Evidently, on more than one occasion, slip-ups have proven to be the #4 driver’s downfall.

Now, with SHR’s charter sale conversations picking up pace (and the possibility of drivers being ousted), the situation isn’t looking too promising for most of the SHR drivers, including Berry. However, the rookie racer might find some respite as his predecessor recently backed his performance while putting SHR in the line of fire.

Kevin Harvick makes a solid case backed by facts

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There is an air of confusion and uncertainty at Stewart-Haas Racing regarding their future in the Cup Series. Initially, all we heard were rumors about SHR looking to sell their charter, but Chase Briscoe’s statement about auditioning “every week has fueled the fire. With the rumors going strong, it is hard to see Tony Stewart’s organization move forward with all four drivers. Could Josh Berry retain his seat, though?

Top finishes have been hard to come by for Berry, who has majorly stayed out of the top 10 until a P3 finish last weekend. Having said that, judging a driver’s run after just 13 starts in the Cup season might not be fair, according to many. Especially for a rookie driver like Berry (having debuted full-time in 2024), who is learning the tricks of the trade and competing against the top dogs. It isn’t a fair comparison between him and other top-performing drivers, given he only ran in his 25th Cup race at Darlington, where he finished 3rd.

Kevin Harvick shared a similar sentiment about Berry while speaking about SHR’s charter sale rumors on the Happy Hour podcast. Moreover, he was also critical of the No. 4 team for failing to back the rookie driver, who could have had better finishes. “I think we forget he hasn’t had a lot of Cup starts. They’ve had races this year where they fumbled the ball and kinda messed things up on pit road and didn’t get the finishes they deserve.”

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Harvick’s concerns aren’t ill-founded either. During the Martinsville weekend race, in an unusual turn of events, the #4 team lost control of a tire on their Lap 302 pit stop, giving Berry a pass-through penalty and relegating him to a P25 finish. Similarly, at Richmond, the #4 team’s 16-second pit stop unfortunately put their driver in P11, just a tad bit short of their first Top-10 finish in 2024. And even Berry’s crew chief realizes these are not the kind of mistakes they should be making.

Yeah, we’ve had a really good car the last two weeks. Pit road has just been a complete disaster. We had a guy get hurt, and has been out the last two weeks. I don’t know if that is what has everything off or what is going on. But we’ve been bringing good cars, and [Berry] has been doing a good job,” Rodney Childers said in a conversation with tobychristie.com. Who else in SHR has been doing a good job?

When it comes to the charter sale speculations, Briscoe and Noah Gragson are pretty much the favorites to keep hold of their seats, given their performances. While Gragson has shown promise with 4 Top-10s and 1 podium finish at P3, Briscoe garnered 4 Top-10s and a recent P5 at Darlington.

On the contrary, Ryan Preece’s Cup aspirations look even more bleak as the racer sits at the bottom of the SHR standings with one Top-10 (a P9 finish at Martinsville). If the team does decide to sell two of its charters, it’s likely that Preece and Berry could be in trouble. However, all hope is not lost for Berry in the #4 SHR car, as all it takes is one race win to turn the tides in your favor.

Consistent top-five finishes are the key

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The regular season after the Darlington race has reached its halfway point. While the Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have dominated the proceedings until now, the Ford drivers are now catching up with the leading pack. Although the SHR drivers have been consistent and finished inside the top 5, they certainly could do with a win.

Kevin Harvick explained how these consistent runs can turn into a lucky Victory Lane visit: “You hang around the top five enough, and it’s going to be a Texas-style race where you pop into Victory Lane or Talladega finish or something like that happens. You get one guy like Suarez, so Suarez hasn’t run good enough to be in the top 16, right?… Once we get into this road race season and have some of these guys that might win, it gets interesting.”

The veteran also talked about another aspect that can make the Cup races even more fun to watch. “I think that we are starting to see some new players pop up that have taken a little bit of time to get their arms around things. I think that’s gonna make it even more exciting to watch. As you get more players involved in this mess and you start looking at that bubble line, it becomes interesting.” 

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Well, interesting is definitely an understatement, as Ford’s blistering comeback with Brad Keselowski’s win (notably after a 110-race winless streak) has managed to heighten fan excitement!

Having said that, the onus remains on the SHR drivers – also backed by Ford – who need to do all they can to guarantee their Cup racing future! It might not be a surprise if a couple of drivers do get demoted to the Xfinity Series. Who do you think will face that fate?

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Written by:

Chintan Devgania

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Chintan Mahesh Devgania is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. As someone who likes to dive deep into the sport, he often takes up less explored topics to eventually see them make their way into top stories. His report on Toyota’s young recruit, Jade Avedisian, sharing her thoughts on Late Model Racing, is just one of the examples.
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Edited by:

Ariva Debnath