Before the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Aric Almirola announced that he would be retiring once it ended, putting Stewart-Haas Racing in a position where they needed to find a new driver for the No. 10 Ford for the first time since Danica Patrick retired after the 2017 season.
But during the 2022 season itself, Almirola changed his mind and opted to return for 2023. While he signed a deal for 2023 "and beyond", the door was left open for him to retire or step away from the team after the season ended if he opted to do so.
He did indeed opt to leave Stewart-Haas Racing, though he stopped short of confirming a full retirement and moved to Joe Gibbs Racing's Xfinity Series in a part-time role.
Driver changes are nothing new for Stewart-Haas Racing, as they entered the 2023 season having made one in six of the last seven offseasons, but Almirola's departure marked the first time during that stretch in which they needed to make multiple changes.
Kevin Harvick announced before the 2023 season began that he would be retiring once it ended, and unlike Almirola in 2022, he didn't change his mind. Josh Berry was named his replacement behind the wheel of the No. 4 Ford, joining Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece in Stewart-Haas Racing's 2024 driver lineup.
Who will replace Aric Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season?
In the early stages of the 2022 season, when it was still believed that Almirola was set to retire after the year ended, one of the names that emerged was Noah Gragson, who was competing for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series at the time. As a favorite of Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart, he was viewed as the perfect fit to step in.
Unsurprisingly, after years of Xfinity Series success, Gragson did end up landing a 2023 Cup Series ride, but with Almirola opting to return, it wasn't with Stewart-Haas Racing. He joined Legacy Motor Club as the replacement for Ty Dillon behind the wheel of the No. 42 Chevrolet.
The 2023 season was a disaster for Gragson, who recorded just two top 20 finishes in 21 starts before being suspended and ultimately released after "liking" an inappropriate meme on social media. But what flew somewhat under the radar, largely because he was no longer on a team, was the fact that NASCAR did eventually reinstate him.
A year and a half after Gragson was mentioned possible driver for the No. 10 Ford, the 25-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native became the favorite to replace Almirola. He was later confirmed as the Almirola's replacement for 2024.
Whether or not he can find his form with a new team will certainly be something to watch after a disappointing 2023 season, when he was rumored to lose his ride even before he made the decision easy for pretty much everybody by making a mistake and getting suspended -- and then requesting his own release.
It will surely be a challenge at Stewart-Haas Racing, which have struggled over the last three years and are about to enter somewhat of a rebuild phase.