Aric Almirola has agreed to return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023, backtracking on plans to retire at the end of the 2022 season to remain the driver of the team’s No. 10 Ford, according to a report by Jim Utter of Motorsport.com. An official announcement is expected within the next two weeks, according to Utter’s report.
Almirola had announced that he would retire from full-time racing at the end of the 2022 season in January, but rumors of a change in plans began to surface as midseason approached. According to Jordan Bianchi of The Athletic, sponsor Smithfield Foods had preferred that Almirola, who they have been partnered since 2012, return in 2023. Almirola himself had acknowledged questions about whether or not he would reverse course on his retirement plans as early as Nashville Superspeedway in June.
“I don’t think so, but again I’ve learned to never say never,” Almirola said at the time when asked about unretiring. “There would be a lot of conversations that would have to be had.”
Almirola’s reported decision to continue his career instead of retiring would eliminate Stewart-Haas’ No. 10 from the pool of potential open Cup rides for 2023, and would also offer further clarity on the organization’s exact plans for 2023. Stewart-Haas Racing has been central to NASCAR’s rumor mill this season, as rumors concerning Almirola’s unretirement have been complemented by everything from the team being pinpointed as a potential landing spot for Kyle Busch to speculation on the future of Cole Custer, who has underperformed since winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2020.
This week, Stewart-Haas competition director Greg Zipadelli suggested that Custer would continue to drive the team’s No. 41 Ford, signaling that their focus was on resolving the situation concerning Almirola and the No. 10 team.
“I believe that’s what our plan is right now,” Zipadelli said when asked if the team would bring Custer back in 2023. “We’re just looking to try and sort out the No. 10 car at this particular time.”
Since making his Cup Series debut at Las Vegas in 2007, Almirola has made over 400 Cup Series starts with three victories: at Daytona in 2014, Talladega in 2018, and New Hampshire in 2021. Almirola has enjoyed his best years since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, finishing a career-best fifth in the championship standings in 2018 and making the playoffs in each of his first four seasons with the team.