Nashville has produced its share of rags-to-riches stories. 

Perhaps it’s time to add Josh Berry’s name to the list. On Sunday, the 33-year-old racer from nearby Hendersonville will make his Cup Series debut at Nashville Superspeedway. 

While Berry has made a name for himself at the Nashville Fairgrounds, without his steadfast determination, he might never have realized the dream of racing at his NASCAR home track.

“I went through a phase, that was in 2014-16 that I was kind of getting some one-off opportunities,” Berry said. “We were trying really hard but nothing really materialized. Basically, I went back full-time late model racing. 

“I had kind of made peace with myself, that maybe (NASCAR) wasn’t in the cards for me, right? Maybe that wasn't what I was meant to do. Maybe I was meant to be a bad-ass short track racer, right?”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. identified Berry as a bad-ass short track racer and more. JR Motorsports recruited Berry to race late models in 2015. That became a game-changer for the driver, who started racing go-karts at age 8 but needed additional funding to showcase his talent. 

“For somebody that's grown up racing and just it's always been about money, right,” Berry said. “When I was racing as a kid, we always felt like we were one crash or one blown engine away from being done, because we just didn't have the funding to really consistently do it.

“So, to find an opportunity where all I have to do is put in the effort and work hard at it was just an amazing opportunity. It was just a gift. It was exactly what I wanted.

Earnhardt identified Berry’s talent and offered the tools the driver needed to succeed.

“I felt like I had the motivation and I had the desire to race, to do well and learn and work hard at it,” Berry said. “It just really kind of turned into a decade so of racing those cars. 

“The better I got, the more our program grew. I won nearly all the big races in the late model stock that there was to win and ultimately ended up winning the weekly series national championship.

“We were able to just build that program slowly into what it is now, which is one of the top late model programs really in the country.”

The opportunity and success Berry enjoyed endeared him to Earnhardt and heightened his reputation throughout the racing ranks. In 2014, JRM offered Berry his first Xfinity Series start. He finished 12th at Iowa Speedway.

Berry stayed the course over in the CARS Tour over the next seven seasons until other chances arose to race in NASCAR.

“I’m proud of Josh for keeping his head down and working hard, not getting discouraged,” Earnhardt said when Berry was revealed as Kevin Harvick’s replacement in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford one year ago. “He raced every week with goals in front of him: win this, check this box. Win this championship, win this race. He kept pursuing the next thing all through his career.

“The lack of opportunities in the Xfinity series or the truck series over the last six or seven years weren’t breaking his spirit. He just continued to work hard. He loved what he was doing in the CARS Tour, enjoyed racing late models—and that was exciting.”

Berry had acquired a bit of sponsorship to run additional races in Xfinity but his big break came during the 2021 season. Sam Mayer was joining JRM but couldn’t drive until he turned 18 in late June. 

Berry was surprised not only that JRM offered him the ride but that higher profile drivers passed on the limited schedule.

“They just decided to just throw me in there and see what would happen,” Berry said. “From that moment on, I just felt like I got a second chance. From that moment on, my goal shifted to try to figure out how to how to make it here to this point.”

Seven races into the 2021 season—and 14 races into his Xfinity career—Berry held off teammate Noah Gragson to win at Martinsville. His second victory, during his part-time season, came  at Las Vegas in the fall.

“Winning the race at Martinsville is what he had to do,” Earnhardt added. “I don’t think we’re here if he doesn’t win that race.”

Berry made his Cup debut with Spire Motorsports later that year. In 2023, he competed in his first full-time opportunity with JRM in Xfinity. He won a career-high three races and qualified for the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway and finished fourth in the standings.

While Berry’s final season with JRM wasn’t nearly as stout, his previous success earned him an opportunity to race with Hendrick Motorsports as a substitute driver after Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman were both injured last year. 

Berry’s performance and work ethic heightened his stock and vaulted him to the top of veteran crew chief Rodney Childers’ wish list for a new driver. While Earnhardt advocated for his driver, Berry was already Childers’ first choice.

“Everybody knows that I’m a Josh Berry fan, I really think that’s what some of this came down to,” Childers said at the driver announcement. “I told the shop guys at Stewart-Haas I wish they could go 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.”

Childers’ prediction was spot-on. Despite the turmoil surrounding the impending closure of SHR at season’s end, Berry and the No. 4 team have prevailed. On Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Berry ran third, earning his second top five of 2024.  

“I’ll be honest, I’ve never felt more confident behind the wheel than I do now after working with these guys for just a handful of races,” Berry said. “That speaks for the amazing job that Rodney and these guys have done over the years.

“My number one goal for us is try to find the right opportunity that we can hopefully keep racing together. In the meantime, we're just going to keep trying to put together the best races we can to just add to our stock. If we do that, we'll be able to find a a really good opportunity for us all.”