NASCAR: Stewart-Haas Racing could be facing a bigger problem

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Kevin Harvick is set to retire after the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, but Stewart-Haas Racing may still have to make an additional change.

2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick announced earlier this week that the 2023 season is set to be his last, confirming rumors that had been circulating for quite some time.

Harvick, the oldest active full-time driver in the sport at 47 years of age, has been competing full-time in the Cup Series since taking over for Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing following his death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

The Bakersfield, California native left Richard Childress Racing after the 2013 season and joined Stewart-Haas Racing, where he has competed ever since.

Harvick’s retirement means that Stewart-Haas Racing will need to find a replacement for him behind the wheel of the No. 4 Ford, which won’t be easy to do considering the overall lack of true prospects currently competing for Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford in the lower NASCAR national series.

His decision also continues a trend, as Stewart-Haas Racing have changed their driver lineup after six of the last seven NASCAR Cup Series seasons.

Most recently, they announced after the 2022 season that reserve driver Ryan Preece would be replacing Cole Custer behind the wheel of the No. 41 Ford, with Custer being demoted back to the Xfinity Series.

That trend is set to become seven of the last eight seasons following 2023. But during this current seven-year stretch, they have made no more than one change to their driver lineup in an offseason. That could very well change ahead of 2024.

Before the 2022 season began, Aric Almirola announced that he would be retiring once it ended, but during the season itself, he changed his mind and signed a new deal to remain behind the wheel of the No. 10 Ford for “2023 and beyond”.

However, Almirola’s new deal reportedly contains a clause that allows him to retire after the 2023 season if he chooses to do so, which means that Stewart-Haas Racing could need to change half of their driver lineup before the 2024 season after potentially losing two veterans in the same year.

This, of course, assumes that Chase Briscoe remains with the team behind the wheel of the No. 14 Ford and Preece has a solid enough year in 2023 to justify staying in the No. 41 Ford.

To whom will they turn if they need to replace not one but two drivers in 2024? Preece was initially considered a shoo-in to replace Almirola, but they have already called upon him to replace Custer, a decision that one of the two team owners didn’t initially agree with.

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Will they be forced to look outside the organization for someone new? There are set to be quite a few notable free agents after the 2023 season, but how many of them will re-sign with their current teams?