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The Wood Brothers "need to be better." Is Josh Berry the answer?

The much-lauded technical alliance with Team Penske helped NASCAR’s iconic Wood Brothers organization earn its 99th victory in the Cup Series, but so far not much else.

Harrison Burton, Wood Brothers Racing, Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang

Since returning to full-time competition after a brief run as a part-time team, the No. 21 Ford has earned one win with Ryan Blaney and just 15 top five finishes.

It’s not been for a lack of effort, as the team has utilized a variety of different drivers in that period, including Blaney, Paul Menard, Matt DiBenedetto and most recently Harrison Burton, who was brought up from the Xfinity Series.

It’s clear that consistent the results have yet to materialize, and it was likely time to make a change. The upheaval at Stewart-Haas Racing and availability of its drivers after this season, provided the team a choice of talented options.

Harrison Burton, Wood Brothers Racing, DEX Imaging Ford Mustang

Harrison Burton, Wood Brothers Racing, DEX Imaging Ford Mustang

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

This week, the Wood Brothers landed on Josh Berry, an experienced driver who is just coming into his own in the Cup series, as its next pilot of the No. 21.

“We need to be better. There’s no secret in that,” Wood Brothers team president Jon Wood, a former driver himself, said this week. “This is a business that’s based on chemistry and it’s a sport that’s based on results and, right now, we’re just not having those results.

“If Harrison shares some of the responsibility, if it’s on us, we’re not pointing fingers. We’re not here to say this one is at fault or that one is at fault, we’re just not where we need to be.

“Finding that right chemistry and balance to have those results in performance, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Berry's path to the Wood Brothers No. 21

Berry, 33, has had a bumpy journey to NASCAR’s top series, but his talent has remained a constant at every level, whether it be in Late Models, Xfinity or most recently in Cup.

Although his first full-time season in Cup got off to a rocky start this year, he and his No. 4 team have settled into regular threats to contend, with all four of his top-10 finishes this season coming in the last seven races.

In his brief Cup tenure, he already has experience at two top NASCAR operations. In fact, during his fill-in role at Hendrick Motorsports while he was still a full-time Xfinity driver, he scored a runner-up finish at Richmond in the 2023 season.

“When he substituted for Hendrick that was pretty eye-opening,” Jon Wood said. “I mean, he can tell you, but I can’t. These cars are monsters and to have no experience in a Next Gen car or a Cup car and to hop in that thing and go like he did at different types of tracks, I mean, it gave every one of us pause.

“You don’t really know it at the time. It’s not something that you’re aware of. You’re not like, ‘Well, this might be our next driver,’ but you still remember it and it stood out.”

With SHR co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas’ decision in May to shutter the four-Cup team operation, it appeared Berry’s promising Cup career might get sidetracked before it even fully developed.

Josh Berry, Wood Brothers Racing

Josh Berry, Wood Brothers Racing

Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images

But he believes he’s still on the right track and has linked with an organization that shares his desire to get better.

“I’ve just been very thankful and very fortunate to have a lot of great people behind me that have given me opportunities, but also opportunities that have provided results and allowed me to continue on this path,” Berry said.

“It’s been a lot going on the last few years. Now I have a new opportunity ahead of me for next year, which I’m really excited for. I think it’s a great fit for me. I have a great opportunity to come in here and help be a part of getting them back to running where they want to run and where they expect to run, and I have the same expectations.

“I feel like between everyone here at the Wood Brothers, between the affiliation at Team Penske and Ford, I think we have the pieces in place to be competitive, and I think where I’m at with the Next Gen car we’ll be able to hit the ground running.”

That will be welcome news to the Wood Brothers, who are NASCAR’s oldest team and still trying to keep maintain a link to NASCAR’s important history in a sport that continues to embrace the future.

“We’ve had so many close calls, so many opportunities that other teams did and would have failed, and somehow we made it through,” Jon Wood said. “Whether that’s making a right decision or whether that’s relationships, being good people.

“I don’t know what did it, but to make it 74 coming up on 75 years you had to have done something right.”

A 100th Cup victory with its newest driver as part of a 75-year celebration party would certainly prove the point.

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