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What are Realistic Expectations for Josh Berry at Stewart-Haas Racing?

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Josh Berry was officially announced yesterday as the driver to replace Kevin Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing. The news received somewhat mixed reactions amongst fans. Many were excited to see Berry get an opportunity, while others wondered if Stewart-Haas Racing would hold Berry back.

Those questions will not be answered until next year, but the bottom line is that racing in the Cup Series with a top team comes with expectations. With Berry not bringing any sponsorship money with him, the pressure is more on him to perform.

With that being said, what are realistic expectations for Josh Berry? Well, the best way to do that is to look at how other drivers have performed during their rookie season, and how Stewart-Haas Racing as a team has performed.

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How do NASCAR Rookies With Top Teams Typically Perform?

Josh Berry will almost certainly be in contention for the Rookie of the Year award next season. So, how have Rookie of the Year winners tended to perform over the past five years?

  • 2022: Austin Cindric (1 Win; 5 Top-5s; 9 Top-10s; 16.3 Avg. Finish; 12th Place Point Finish)
  • 2021: Chase Briscoe (0 Wins; 0 Top-5s; 3 Top-10s; 19.6 Avg. Finish; 23rd Place Point Finish)
  • 2020: Cole Custer (1 Win; 2 Top-5s; 7 Top-10s; 19.2 Avg. Finish; 16th Place Point Finish)
  • 2019: Daniel Hemric (0 Wins; 1 Top-5; 2 Top-10s; 22.5 Avg. Finish; 25th Place Point Finish)
  • 2018: William Byron (0 Wins; 0 Top-5s; 4 Top-10s; 22.1 Avg. Finish; 23rd Place Point Finish)

It’s worth noting that three of those drivers on that list are not in the NASCAR Cup Series anymore. Some other top NASCAR drivers did not win the Rookie of the Year award. Here are how some of these guys performed.

  • 2020: Tyler Reddick (0 Wins; 3 Top-5s; 9 Top-10s; 17.5 Avg. Finish; 19th Place Point Finish)
  • 2020: Christopher Bell (0 Wins; 2 Top-5s; 7 Top-10s; 20.3 Avg. Finish; 20th Place Point Finish)
  • 2018: Bubba Wallace (0 Wins; 1 Top-5; 3 Top-10s; 24.5 Avg. Finish; 28th Place Point Finish)

This provides a baseline for how rookies tend to perform. Making the playoffs is pretty rare, as it has happened only twice in the last five seasons with Austin Cindric and Cole Custer. Chase Elliott is the only other rookie to make the Playoffs since it expanded to 16 drivers in 2014. As for the average of what these rookies tend to do, here is that stat line.

  • 0.2 Wins; 1.75 Top-5s; 5.5 Top-10s; 20.25 Avg. Finish; 20.75 Average Points Finish

However, equipment must be taken into account as well. Stewart-Haas Racing has had some well-documented struggles this season, so it is important to see what type of team Berry is stepping into.

Looking at Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing

Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled immensely this season. Currently, three of their four drivers sit 25th or worse in the points standings. Stewart-Haas Racing as a team has struggled over the past few seasons as well.

Since 2021, as an organization, Stewart-Haas Racing has only won four races. Kevin Harvick has two wins, Aric Almirola has one, and Chase Briscoe has one. More teams have finished outside of the top-20 in points (4) than have finished in the top-10 (2).

However, Harvick has been an anomaly during this time. While he has only won two races over the past three seasons, he still has been remarkably consistent with 23 Top-5s and 48 Top-10s over these years. Is it realistic for Berry to continue that trend with Harvick, or will his performance dip to what Stewart-Haas Racing has generally done?

Berry’s Cup Series Performance

Another thing that we can analyze with Berry is Cup Series performance. This is not common at all amongst rookies, as most have minimal Cup Series experience in top equipment before starting in their first full-time season.

In eight Cup Series races, Berry has three top-10 finishes, all of which come on tracks that are 1.0 miles or less. On tracks larger than that, Berry’s average finish is 25.5. Berry is going to have to improve that mark on bigger tracks, and that may take some time.

Berry’s strength is obviously on the short tracks, so it is not unexpected that he may struggle on the bigger tracks to start his career. It’s not like he cannot do it though, as three of his five Xfinity Series wins came at 1.5 mile race tracks. However, the Cup cars could prove to be a learning curve.

Realistic Expectations

With all of this in mind, this is what should be expected of Josh Berry. Making the Playoffs and winning the Rookie of the Year are good goals to have. The talent to win races is there, and he is jumping into a team that is succeeding despite the rest of SHR struggling.

However, to expect Berry to just take the entire Cup Series by storm and win multiple races is unrealistic. It will take time for him to get acclimated to the Cup Series, but an upset win on a short track is not impossible for him. Even missing the Playoffs should not be a dealbreaker for him

Overall, if Berry can win a race and garner around 7-10 top-10s next season, that would be successful rookie season. Even without a race win, 7-10 top-10s with a top-20 points finish would be a good start for him as SHR begins to rebuild.

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Joshua Lipowski

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