NASCAR already had an interesting silly season development

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

While the NASCAR Cup Series silly season is still in its early stages, there was already an interesting situation to watch several months ago.

NASCAR silly season seems to start earlier and earlier each year, and that was again true this year. While things have started to really pick up lately, specifically in regard to Kyle Busch’s future — or lack thereof — in the Cup Series, silly season talks really began quite a few months ago.

Over this past offseason, it was announced that Aric Almirola would be retiring from the sport after 15 seasons this coming November.

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Almirola, who has three career wins, has driven the #10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing since he replaced Danica Patrick ahead of the 2018 season. He has earned two victories driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, including one at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2018 and another one at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July 2021.

This announcement has already opened up a seat at one of NASCAR’s top teams for the 2023 season, a team that did not make any changes to their four-car lineup this past offseason.

This past offseason was the first offseason since between the 2015 and 2016 seasons during which the team did not make any driver changes.

There have already been rumors of Kevin Harvick potentially retiring when his current deal expires after the 2023 season, and there are questions about what Cole Custer, one of the team’s two younger drivers, needs to show on-track in order to solidify his long-term future in his current seat alongside fellow recent addition Chase Briscoe.

But regardless of what happens with the #41 Ford of Custer, Almirola’s departure after the 2022 season ensures that Stewart-Haas Racing will need to look for at least one new driver sooner rather than later.

One driver whose name keeps coming up in regard to the #10 Ford is Ryan Preece, the former JTG Daugherty Racing driver who was signed as Stewart-Haas Racing’s reserve driver for 2022.

He entered the year with plans to compete in select races, 12 in total, for Stewart-Haas Racing-affiliated teams across all three NASCAR national series this year. He has already competed in on Cup Series race for Rick Ware Racing, one Xfinity Series race for B. J. McLeod Motorsports, and three Truck Series races for David Gilliland Racing.

Preece is set to compete in one more Cup Series race for Rick Ware Racing, two more Xfinity Series races for B. J. McLeod Motorsports, and four more Truck Series races for David Gilliland Racing this year.

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So is Preece the frontrunner to replace Almirola at this point? Could the team promote Stewart-Haas Racing Xfinity Series driver Riley Herbst instead? What about bringing in somewhat of a dark horse who is outside the organization, such as Noah Gragson? And what about Kyle Busch if he doesn’t re-sign with Joe Gibbs Racing? Silly season’s earliest talking point doesn’t look like it will be settled anytime soon.