Josh Berry and Michael McDowell capitalized on alternate strategies and earned strong finishes in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
Berry finished second and McDowell finished sixth, which is each’s best Cup Series finish of 2023.
Berry’s race didn’t start out so smoothly. Contact with Ryan Blaney spun him in turn four on lap 96, then he ran mostly midpack until his team strategically kept him out late in the race.
Berry led 10 laps, but lost the lead as he anxiously waited, with Front Row Motorsports drivers McDowell and Todd Gilliland, for a caution.
Then, a caution fell for Tyler Reddick spinning in turn two on lap 373.
During the lap 379 and lap 386 restarts, Berry held strong alongside leader and teammate Kyle Larson, then settled into second at the finish.
“When we got some clean track, we weren’t running bad lap times. I’m so glad they tried something different to get us there at the end. Felt like we were decent the whole time. Just getting in cleaner air. We were free to run with Kyle. Man, what a huge day,” Berry said.
Berry’s second-place finish is his second top-10 finish in four races filling in for Chase Elliott. Each weekend, he has also raced a wildly-different NASCAR Xfinity Series car and done independent studies to prepare for the Cup Series race.
“I love his [Josh Berry’s] approach, and it’s turning into results, which I’m sure it’s turning into confidence for him as he continues to go to each track that he is going to be behind the wheel of the car,” said Jeff Gordon, the vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports.
McDowell restarted ninth on lap 379, then gained two spots amid William Byron’s spin in turn one. The FRM driver passed Martin Truex Jr. on the lap 386 restart, then settled into sixth for the finish.
“I think the strategy was a good call. A lot of that was our car was really good on the long run and I think we were gonna be 15th or 16th, so you might as well go for it and see if you can’t come up with something good and it worked out. We needed a little bit more speed on the front end and not lose so much track position early on, but the long run speed was great. Had a couple of those runs gone a little longer, I think we would have actually been a little bit better yet, so I’m proud of everybody,” Michael McDowell said.
McDowell’s sixth-place is his first Top-10 finish of 2023. He now has three Top-15 finishes in the last four races, including a breakthrough 13th-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.
“Phoenix was a good race for us and this obviously being a good race, so I feel like our short track program is turning the corner, at least I hope so. I’m optimistic about that,” McDowell said.
McDowell’s teammate Todd Gilliland finished 15th. He now has three straight Top-15 finishes and his fourth Top-20 finish of 2023.