Aric Almirola confirmed at Daytona International Speedway on Friday that he has signed a multi-year deal to return to Stewart-Haas Racing, backtracking on plans to retire at the end of the 2022 season. Almirola will continue to drive the team's No. 10 Ford with sponsorship from Smithfield Foods, who has also signed an extension with the team and will "significantly" heighten their presence as the team's primary sponsor.
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 and Smithfield asked Almirola to reconsider his plans. Almirola had cited a desire to spend more time with his family as his reason for retirement, but expressed Friday that he had found a means of both continuing his career and spending time with his family.
"There was a lot of back and forth discussion, but ultimately it just feels right," Almirola told reporters. "I told you guys down here at the beginning of the year that I was retiring, and that it was for a family decision. And this is still very much a family decision. [Wife] Janice and the kids and I talked a lot about it, and I think the person that probably has the most sacrifice involved is Janice. But the kids were estatic that they still get to come and be with their friends.
"And there is a community that is involved and associated with what we do. This year, I took the opportunity to really soak it all up and embrace this year. And I have found a renewed sense of what a work-life balance looks like."
Since making his Cup Series debut at Las Vegas in 2007, Almirola has made over 400 Cup 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.
Almirola's decision to continue his career instead of retiring eliminates Stewart-Haas' No. 10 from the pool of potential open Cup rides for 2023, as the car had been the most lucrative open seat available. Stewart-Haas Racing remains central to NASCAR's rumor mill, 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.
Last 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."