NASCAR: Another vacant seat at Stewart-Haas Racing?

Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images) /

Josh Berry is set to replace Kevin Harvick in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, but Stewart-Haas Racing’s driver lineup could see further change.

Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed the “worst kept secret” of 2023 NASCAR Cup Series silly season in June when they announced that JR Motorsports Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry is set to replace the retiring Kevin Harvick behind the wheel of the No. 4 Ford starting in 2024.

With 4EVER having evolved into 4WARD, Stewart-Haas Racing will have made a driver change after seven of the last eight seasons by the time the 2024 season rolls around.

They have never made more than one change per year during that stretch, but that could still change with Aric Almirola reportedly undecided on his future.

Before the 2022 season began, Almirola announced that it would be his last. But midway through the season, he began to walk back his comments and ultimately decided that he would be returning to the No. 10 Ford, which he has driven since 2018, for 2023.

While his new deal to drive the Smithfield-sponsored entry was for 2023 “and beyond”, it did reportedly contain a way for him to opt out after 2023, should he decide to retire.

Aric Almirola has recently made clear that he hasn’t yet made up his mind on what his plans are for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Three weeks ago, he stated that he needed to make a decision between the next 30 to 60 days. That deadline is quickly approaching.

Should Almirola opt to retire one year after he was initially planning to, it would leave Stewart-Haas Racing needing to make a second offseason driver change, something they have not done amid this aforementioned eight-year stretch.

Stewart noted upon Berry’s hiring that he didn’t exactly have a long list of potential replacement candidates for Harvick lined up. He and the team zeroed in on Berry, and they got their man.

But if Almirola leaves, perhaps one of the dark horse candidates to replace Harvick might get a chance to compete for Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

Performance-wise, one has to wonder whether Almirola thinks his time in the Cup Series is up. He made the playoffs in each of his first four seasons with the team, but he missed out last year despite a strong start to the year.

From the end of the 2021 season to the start of the 2022 campaign, he went on a streak of five straight top six finishes. Since then, he has just six total top 10 finishes, including just two in the last 36 races.

He sits in 24th place in the point standings through 24 races on the 2023 schedule, and he ranks 27th in average points per race among full-time drivers, higher than only first-year teammate Ryan Preece among Stewart-Haas Racing drivers. In 24 races this year, he has finished outside of the top 20 on 14 occasions.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

On the plus side, he did recently earn RSS Racing their first ever Xfinity Series victory at Sonoma Raceway back in June. Prior to this year, he hadn’t even competed in the series since 2018. Will that be enough for him to believe that he still has what it takes to compete at a high level in the Cup Series, or will Stewart-Haas Racing’s 2024 lineup feature only 50% of their drivers from 2023?