There is growing speculation that Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola could decide to retire after the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola announced before the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season began that it would be his last, but he began to walk that back throughout the early part of the season.
Long story short, he eventually pulled a Tom Brady and announced that he would be returning to the No. 10 Ford for a sixth season in 2023, putting off retirement for at least another year.
While Almirola’s new deal to return to the Smithfield-sponsored entry at Stewart-Haas Racing was said to be for 2023 and beyond, the deal was rumored to include a way for the 39-year-old Fort Walton Beach, Florida native to retire after the 2023 season.
Almirola has struggled in 2023, recording just one top 12 finish and 11 finishes outside of the top 20 in the season’s first 16 races. Last year at this time, he had finished in the top eight on five occasions and had just four results worse than 20th place. Yet even last year, he failed to make the playoffs for the first time since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018.
With 10 races left on the NASCAR Cup Series regular season schedule, Aric Almirola isn’t close to qualifying for the playoffs, barring an unexpected victory.
He sits in 26th place in the point standings — and the only reason why he is that high is because other drivers have been issued penalties and/or missed races. In terms of average points per race, he ranks 29th among full-time drivers.
Stewart-Haas Racing haven’t had a great season as a whole, yet Kevin Harvick, who is set to retire at the end of the 2023 season for sure, still sits in fifth place in the standings, one point out of a tie for third.
Almirola simply hasn’t performed as well as he did during his first three seasons with the team back from 2018 to 2020. Him retiring would make things even more interesting for Stewart-Haas Racing as they approach the 2024 campaign, given the fact that they are already set to lose Harvick.
While they have made a driver change after six of the last seven seasons, they have never replaced more than one driver per season during that span.
Josh Berry has been the heavily rumored favorite to replace Harvick in 2023, with the two sides said to be working on a deal following his link to Harvick’s KHI (Kevin Harvick, Inc.) Management.
But if Almirola retires, would Berry get the No. 4 Ford or the No. 10 Ford? And who would be Stewart-Haas Racing’s second new addition to their roster, presumably alongside current drivers Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece?
Stewart-Haas Racing were happy to have not been faced with this issue last year. They ultimately replaced Cole Custer with Preece, who had been rumored to replace Almirola. Needing to make another driver change, provided they still decided to demote Custer, would not have been ideal.
But at this point, would both sides be better off with a change, even if it means an overhaul of half of the team’s lineup?
It is important to point out that Almirola hasn’t said anything one way or the other, but the fact that he was initially ready to hang it up after the 2022 season, coupled with the fact that he hasn’t run all that well over the last season and a half, could be an indication that the 2023 season is his last.