NASCAR: Potential Aric Almirola replacement ruled out?

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

Riley Herbst is set to return to Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity Series team for the 2024 NASCAR season, taking him out of the mix to replace Aric Almirola.

Before this past race weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed that Riley Herbst is set to return to their NASCAR Xfinity Series team for a fourth season behind the wheel of the No. 98 Ford next year. The 2024 season is set to be Herbst’s fifth full season overall at the sport’s second highest level.

Herbst, who has had some success in select Cup Series starts with Rick Ware Racing this year, responded to his contract extension by earning his first career NASCAR national series win on Saturday at Las Vegas in the Xfinity Series.

The 24-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native had been winless in 138 previous Xfinity Series starts and 153 overall NASCAR national series starts.

Stewart-Haas Racing could have another NASCAR Cup Series seat to fill.

With Aric Almirola, who initially planned on retiring after the 2022 season, contemplating retirement after the 2023 season, Stewart-Haas Racing could have another Cup Series seat to fill next year.

They already filled Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford with Josh Berry, with Harvick set to retire after the 2023 season for certain, but both Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece are set to return to the No. 14 Ford and No. 41 Ford, respectively.

While you could argue that Stewart-Haas Racing having Herbst under contract for 2024 would make it easier for him to replace Almirola, his new deal is specifically for the Xfinity Series.

With that in mind, the announcement wouldn’t have been made when it was made if Herbst had truly been viewed as a possible Almirola replacement.

As a Stewart-Haas Racing Xfinity Series driver since 2021, Herbst was naturally viewed as one of the possibilities, especially following his two top 10 finishes in four Cup Series races with Rick Ware Racing. However, even with backing from Monster Energy, that won’t happen yet in 2024.

This announcement would seem to indicate either that Almirola will return or that Cole Custer is the frontrunner to replace him should he indeed decide to retire.

Custer, who lost his Cup Series seat with Stewart-Haas Racing to Preece after the 2022 season, has not yet been confirmed as a part of Stewart-Haas Racing’s 2024 Xfinity Series lineup, despite the fact that he has had a stronger 2023 season than Herbst — and has no shortage of ties to the team, sponsorship included, that would help keep him there.

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Still, Almirola’s decision has not yet been made — or at least not publicized. Should he decide to return for a seventh year behind the wheel of the No. 10 Ford, the move would solidify Stewart-Haas Racing’s four-car lineup for the 2024 Cup Series season, and it would presumably solidify their two-car lineup for the 2024 Xfinity Series season with Custer likely back.