NASCAR: Possible Aric Almirola replacement ruled out

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Front Row Motorsports have picked up their option to keep Michael McDowell with the team through the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

For the second year in a row, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola is facing an uncertain future in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Ahead of the 2022 season, he envisioned retiring at the end of the year and made the announcement that that is what he would be doing. But those plans changed during the season, and he instead opted to return for a sixth year behind the wheel of the No. 10 Ford in 2023.

Almirola was said to have signed a contract extension to keep him with Stewart-Haas Racing for “2023 and beyond”, but the deal supposedly contains an option for him to retire after the 2023 season if he decides that he wants to hang up his fire suit — for real this time.

Almirola has struggled throughout the 2023 season, posting just two top 10 finishes in the season’s first 23 races. He finds himself well below the playoff cut line in 24th place in the point standings and needs to win one of the regular season’s three remaining races to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2021.

Aric Almirola has also recently said that he needs to make a decision on his NASCAR future behind the wheel of the No. 10 Ford relatively soon.

When Almirola revealed a timetable of between 30 and 60 days a few weeks back, Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell was rumored as the most likely option to replace him if he opted to retire.

The 2021 Daytona 500 winner consistently gets the most out of his equipment with a team that generally hasn’t run at the front, and he has put himself in position to potentially qualify for the playoffs on points in what has been a career year in 2023.

At 39 years old, McDowell would also give the team a veteran presence as they enter an inevitable rebuilding period following not only the potential retirement of Almirola but the retirement of 2014 champion Kevin Harvick.

But now McDowell is reportedly off the table for Stewart-Haas Racing, with Front Row Motorsports having made the decision to pick up the option in his contract to keep him behind the wheel of the No. 34 Ford in 2024.

They also opted to retain Todd Gilliland, who has been the primary driver of the No. 38 Ford this year, for a third season and confirmed that they will not be expanding to three full-time entries, meaning that reigning Truck Series champion Zane Smith is free to search elsewhere for a ride.

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Should Almirola decide to retire, it’s safe to say that the No. 10 car is one ride that could potentially be on Smith’s list within the Ford camp, especially with McDowell no longer a possibility.