NASCAR: Aric Almirola to return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2021

Aric Almirola is set to return to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth year in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, again with sponsorship from Smithfield.

Three of Stewart-Haas Racing’s four drivers are officially slated to return for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, as Aric Almirola and Smithfield Foods have extended their deals with the team through next year.

Almirola has driven the #10 Ford since replacing Danica Patrick following the 2017 season. He joins Kevin Harvick and Cole Custer as Stewart-Haas Racing drivers under contract for 2021, as Clint Bowyer is still a pending free agent.

The 36-year-old Fort Walton Beach, Florida native confirmed this news on Twitter.

While Almirola found himself in a similar position to the one he was in last year, when it took until October for him to sign a one-year extension with Stewart-Haas Racing, he had been considered one of the top drivers without a deal to compete next year, despite the fact that he still hasn’t won a race in nearly two years.

Almirola still has just two career victories to his name, the most recent coming at Talladega Superspeedway back in October of 2018, his first win in over four years, when he led only the race’s final lap after teammate Kurt Busch ran out of fuel. He advanced to the round of 8 of the playoffs that year and finished in a career-high fifth place in the championship standings.

But Almirola has looked a lot better in 2020 than he did in 2019, when he experienced a first round playoff exit and at one point went 12 races in a row without a top 10 finish.

He already set a new career-high in top five finishes this year with five, and he did it in a five-race span, ripping off five straight finishes of third or fifth place. That five-race streak of top five finishes led off a nine-race streak of top 10 results. All of last season, he only recorded 12 top 10 finishes.

He secured a playoff spot even before the regular season finale despite not winning a race, and he sits in eighth place in the point standings (tied for 10th in the playoff picture) entering the four-round, 10-race postseason, for which he has qualified in all three of his seasons as the driver of the #10 Ford.