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October 28, 2023

Aric Almirola announces he will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing

Aric Almirola on the Cup Series grid at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Alex Slitz
Getty Images

Citing he’s “ready for the next adventure,” Aric Almirola announced Saturday on social media that he will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing following the 2023 season.

The 39-year-old is finishing out his sixth season as driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in the NASCAR Cup Series. Two of his three Cup Series victories came with the Tony Stewart and Gene Haas-led organization.

RELATED: Aric Almirola’s driver page | 2023-24 Silly Season

“It’s been great,” Almirola said Saturday before Cup Series practice and qualifying at Martinsville Speedway, the site of Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App). “Obviously, as a race car driver and as a competitor, you always want more. I would have loved to have won more races and won a championship. That’s what I went over there for. I have won some races, so I’m proud of that, and we’ve had a lot of success, but I think at the end of the day that’s temporary. The friendships that I’ve made. The relationships that I’ve made, all of that will last forever, and I’m grateful for that. I really am. I’m very grateful for the six years that I’ve showed up to work every day there, and they treat me like family. I feel extremely close to all of the employees over there, and they brought me in with welcoming arms when I showed up in 2018, and it has been a really fun ride ever since.”

In addition to his three Cup wins, Almirola has also scored four victories in the Xfinity Series and two in his lone full-time campaign in the Craftsman Truck Series. The most recent of those wins came this year in Xfinity competition at Sonoma Raceway in June.

The announcement ends more than a yearlong process in which Almirola’s future changed multiple times. In January 2022, the Florida native set forth plans to end his driving career after the 2022 season. Almirola changed course in late August, announcing before the regular-season finale in Daytona that he and sponsor Smithfield would return to the No. 10 Ford for 2023.

Almirola’s departure leaves open a Cup Series ride in the No. 10 for next year. Stewart indicated in a statement that Stewart-Haas Racing would remain a four-car operation in the NASCAR Cup Series and that a new driver and new partners would be announced for the No. 10 group “in the near future.” Stewart also made a note of appreciation for Smithfield, which announced Saturday morning that it would end its sponsorship in the sport.

Almirola indicated Saturday at Martinsville that he hoped to step back into a part-time role with SHR, but that such a deal did not materialize after talks throughout the summer with the organization. Almirola did not specify what his plans for 2024 were but said that participating in the Xfinity Series was an option.

“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. I’m not complaining that it’s a grind because I’ve loved it and I signed up for it, but I think, for me, as I look toward the future and what my life looks like, I would like to find a better work-life balance than what I have currently.”

Stewart met Almirola in 2004 when the two were under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner. By then, Stewart had the first of his three Cup Series championships, and Almirola was a prospect in JGR’s diversity pipeline.

“I’m proud of everything Aric has accomplished and am especially proud that his last six years have been with Stewart-Haas Racing,” Stewart said in the team statement. “He and Smithfield formed an incredible partnership that resonated on and off the race track, and a lot of that is a testament to Aric. He always puts forth maximum effort, and he makes everyone around him better. Simply put, he’s a great person – an awesome dad to Alex and Abby and an exceptional husband to Janice. I know all of them really well and am genuinely happy for their next steps together as a family. Smithfield has been an outstanding partner and a NASCAR staple for more than a decade. Their platform with Aric was a model for the sport, and it was an honor to represent them.”

Almirola is the second Stewart-Haas driver to announce a change in plans for next season. Kevin Harvick announced before the 2023 campaign that he would end his driving career, transitioning to the FOX Sports broadcast booth next year.

MORE: 2023 Cup Series standings

Almirola currently ranks 22nd in the Cup Series standings, scoring just one top-five finish so far and missing out on playoff eligibility for the second consecutive year. His season highlights include notching two pole positions (at Atlanta in July and Talladega in September) and winning a 150-mile qualifying race in the run-up to the season-opening Daytona 500.

When asked about his decision to return this season, Almirola said he had no misgivings – “not one bit.” He noted his Xfinity Series victory at Sonoma as one of the more special occasions this year and that he took extra care to savor the celebration with his family.

“That moment, several other moments throughout the year like that, we would have never had that, and I do not regret one minute of this season,” Almirola said. “There’s been trials, absolutely. But who doesn’t go through trials in life? I didn’t expect this year to be easy. I didn’t expect it to be all rainbows and kittens. I knew it would be a challenge. I knew that there would be ups and downs, but I signed up for it, and I don’t regret one minute.”

Contributing: Zack Albert from Martinsville, Virginia