Motorsports

Aric Almirola puts NASCAR retirement on hold, will return for 2023

Almirola, 38, has agreed to return to Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford team for the 2023 season, multiple sources with knowledge of Almirola’s decision have confirmed to Motorsport.com.  

Smithfield Foods is also expected to return as the primary sponsor of the No. 10 for what will now be his final season, sources said. They have been a partner of Almirola’s for the last decade.

An official announcement of Almirola’s plans is expected within the next two weeks.  

In a statement on Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for SHR said the organization does not comment on the status of its contracts, be it driver or partner related.

In a Zoom call with reporters earlier this week, SHR’s chief competition director, Greg Zipadelli, was asked about uncertainty regarding the driver of the No. 10. 

“We’ve waited a lot longer to make some of those decisions to try to build around, so I think we’ll be fine there,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of good options and just kind of waiting to see how everything plays out.” 

The Silly Season picture

The decision by Almirola also eliminates the No. 10 as an option in 2023 for Kyle Busch, who remains without a confirmed ride in the Cup Series next season. Busch’s current contract with Joe Gibbs Racing expires at the end of this season and he has yet to agree to an extension. 

SHR’s driver lineup will now look the same in 2023 as this season provided Cole Custer returns to the No. 41. Asked about Custer’s return, Zipadelli said, “Right now, I believe that’s what our plan is.” 

In early January, Almirola announced the 2022 season would be his last driving fulltime in NASCAR competition.  

At the time, he said he wanted to devote more time to his family, his wife Janice and son, Alex, and daughter, Abby. 

“I want to win and I want to be a champion, but at the end of the day, I know that those things mean way less than being there for my family,” Almirola said then. “I made it to the highest level of American motorsports as a professional race car driver. It’s been amazing, with a lot of ups and downs and everything in between.  

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” 

Aric Almirola, Stewart Haas Racing, Smithfield Ford Mustang

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

However, in recent months, there has been growing speculation Almirola was reconsidering his retirement and would return to SHR for one more season. 

“I haven’t put much thought into (returning) at all just going throughout the course of the year, and then it just keeps getting brought up, and then the chatter turns into real chatter,” Almirola said in an interview last month.  

“Like more questions are getting asked by decision-makers, not just (the media). So, it puts that in my head to where I should at least give it thought.” 

Almirola made his Cup Series debut on March 11, 2007, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, three days before his 23rd birthday. He teamed up with Smithfield in 2012 while at Richard Petty Motorsports for his first full year in Cup. 

The Smithfield/Almirola partnership is one of the most tenured in NASCAR, and since the duo joined SHR in 2018, Almirola has represented Smithfield in the NASCAR playoffs every year and scored two wins – 2018 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and 2021 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

Almirola’s best seasons have come with SHR. He finished a career-high fifth in points in 2018 and scored a career-best 18 top-10 finishes in 2020. 

So far this season, Almirola is 16th in the series standings with two top-five and seven top-10 finishes. He will need to win one of the final two races in the regular season – this weekend at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International or next weekend at Daytona – to qualify for the playoffs this year since there are already 15 different winners. 

Throughout his NASCAR career, Almirola has won three Cup races, three Xfinity Series races and he has two wins in Trucks. 

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