Aric Almirola’s tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing is over. For real this time.
Almirola, 39, announced Saturday that he would be leaving the team at the end of the 2023 season. Almirola has raced full-time in the Cup Series since 2012 and has been at Stewart-Haas Racing since 2018.
Smithfield has sponsored Almirola in the Cup Series since 2012 when he was racing for Richard Petty Motorsports and came to SHR when Almirola left RPM after the 2017 season. The company said Saturday that it's also leaving Stewart-Haas Racing and said "the time has come to end our NASCAR partnership."
Almirola’s social media post announcing his decision did not mention retirement. He announced in January of 2022 that he would be retiring after the 2022 Cup Series season because he wanted to spend more time with his family. Almirola changed his mind during the middle of the season and announced that he’d be back for 2023 that August.
He said in a news conference Saturday morning that he's interested in racing part-time in 2024.
“I hope so. I’d like to not quit cold turkey," Almirola said. "I think there are some opportunities, but it’s hard. It’s challenging to figure out things that make sense for race teams to do it part-time. Most race teams want somebody to run full-time and race for a championship, so we’ll see if we can get it worked out. I’d love to still scratch the itch, but just don’t want to do it like I have been doing it for the last 12 years, where it’s 38 weeks and it’s a grind."
Almirola is currently 22nd in the Cup Series standings and has three career wins in 458 starts. His most recent win came in 2021 at New Hampshire as he finished 15th in the standings. Almirola’s best season came in 2018 when he won at Talladega and finished fifth in the points. It was the only time Almirola finished better than 14th in the standings.
According to Fox Sports, Noah Gragson is considered the leading contender to replace Almirola at SHR. Gragson has been out of NASCAR since parting ways with Legacy Motor Club during the middle of the 2023 season. Gragson had been suspended by the team and NASCAR for liking a social media meme mocking George Floyd’s death. He’s since been reinstated by NASCAR but has not competed in a race since June.
With Almirola’s departure, SHR is replacing two of its four drivers in 2024. Josh Berry has already been announced as the replacement for the retiring Kevin Harvick. Both Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece are set to return next season as the team looks to rebound from what’s been a disastrous season. Harvick was the only SHR driver to make the playoffs and both Briscoe and Preece are behind Almirola in the points standings.