NASCAR: Surprise driver linked to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2024

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

With Aric Almirola out at Stewart-Haas Racing after the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, Noah Gragson has been linked to Stewart-Haas Racing as his replacement.

One of the main focal points of NASCAR Cup Series silly season in recent weeks has been the No. 10 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing, with Aric Almirola considering retirement just one year after he had initially planned on hanging up his helmet.

All signs pointed to Almirola retiring, and while he has stopped shy of making that confirmation, he has confirmed that he won’t be back with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2024.

The 39-year-old Fort Walton Beach, Florida native said at the end of July that he needed to make a decision within the next 30 to 60 days. That window came and went, and nothing had been announced until earlier this weekend, indicating that he likely wouldn’t be coming back.

Almirola leaving Stewart-Haas Racing leaves the team needing to find a new driver for the No. 10 Ford for the 2024 season. Almirola has been with the team since the 2018 season when he replaced Danica Patrick.

The team have already made one driver change for 2024, with Josh Berry set to replace the retiring Kevin Harvick behind the wheel of the No. 4 Ford. Both Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece are set to return to their respective seats.

According to Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass, Noah Gragson is the favorite to replace Aric Almirola after the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

With Zane Smith, arguably Ford’s top young prospect, off the table after signing a multi-year deal with Trackhouse Racing Team, the top options had been viewed as Stewart-Haas Racing Xfinity Series drivers Cole Custer and Riley Herbst.

Herbst was recently ruled out, having confirmed his return to the Xfinity Series team for 2024, but Custer remained a possibility.

Now that Gragson is potentially in position to make the move, Custer will likely remain with Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity Series team for another year. Custer spent three seasons with the team from 2017 to 2019 before being promoted to the Cup Series in 2020, but he lost his ride to Ryan Preece after the 2022 season and was sent back down.

Gragson, who lost his ride with Legacy Motor Club back in August after being suspended for “liking” an inappropriate meme on social media, was recently reinstated by NASCAR, but with no team to drive for.

While not many might have been expecting Gragson to emerge as a replacement candidate for Almirola, the 25-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native was actually viewed as a potential driver of the No. 10 Ford for 2023 back in 2022, before Almirola changed his mind on retirement and decided to come back for a sixth season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Even before his suspension, there were rumors that Gragson would be losing his ride with Legacy Motor Club due to poor performance, given that he had recorded just two top 20 finishes in 21 starts. John Hunter Nemechek, the driver rumored to replace him, ended up being confirmed by the team for 2024.

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It is worth mentioning that Stewart-Haas Racing tried to sign Kyle Larson for the 2021 season, but Ford would not sign off on it. In 2020, Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended indefinitely after using the n-word during a livestream. This recent development indicates that they are willing to sign off on Gragson.