NASCAR: The big Aric Almirola development isn’t anything new

Speculation about whether the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season will actually be Aric Almirola’s final season has increased, but this development isn’t anything new.

Before the start of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola announced that the season would be his 15th and final season as a full-time Cup Series driver and his fifth and final season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

This announcement implied that Almirola would be handing over the reins of the #10 Ford to a new driver in 2023.

Since that announcement, there has been plenty of speculation regarding who, exactly, might replace Almirola, with Stewart-Haas Racing reserve driver Ryan Preece seemingly on deck to be the heir apparent.

But Preece isn’t the only free agent heading into 2023, and Stewart-Haas Racing could elect to look elsewhere, perhaps by taking a look at some younger drivers as well.

Smithfield is set to return as the primary sponsor of the #10 Ford in 2023, regardless of who drives the car. But with the company having more than a decade of sponsorship tied to Almirola specifically, it certainly complicates the business aspect of finding a replacement for him next season.

But a recent rumor has emerged that this might not be Almirola’s last year after all.

At the start of the recent Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NBC’s Rick Allen presented the field via driver introductions and had the following to say about the 38-year-old.

“A little deeper in the field, you have Aric Almriola, saying that this is his final year. But there is a little discussion about it — might be not his final year.”

But this isn’t exactly a breaking development.

Last month, Almirola told Beyond the Flag that he would “never say never” to the idea of a NASCAR return in 2023.

“I’ve learned in life to never say never,” he said at the time. “Life is so complicated; you just have no idea what the future holds. I’ve learned to never say never.”

He did go on to say that, “for the time being, I would say no.”

But clearly this is a possibility that hasn’t only just emerged this past weekend.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Almirola is a Tampa Bay native and sports fanatic himself, so the irony of essentially taking the lead of Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and unretiring would be lost on absolutely no one, if that is indeed the route he takes to pave the way for clarity on his status beyond the conclusion of this season.

Whether he is back behind the wheel of the #10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing or competing for a different team next year, the possibility of Almirola coming back to the Cup Series next season seems to be ramping up. But if/when that announcement is made, the writing was on the wall long before the rumors started to swirl.