Aric Almirola announced Saturday he will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing next season but left the door open to competing somewhere in a limited capacity.
“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.”
Almirola admitted it could “potentially” be Xfinity Series races that help him scratch the itch next season. Earlier this year, Almirola ran two races in the series (his first appearance since 2018) and won at Sonoma Raceway.
“I’m excited just about having some weekends off, so go back to doing some late model racing like I used to do when I was a kid,” Almirola said. “If there’s an opportunity to run a handful of truck races here and there or something like that, or run some Xfinity races, I think the door is open. I’ve had a lot of just amazing conversations over the last four to six months about different opportunities, so I want to stay involved in the industry. I love this industry. I love the people in the industry. This industry has afforded me and my family a wonderful life and I don’t want to just walk away from it.
“When I originally announced that I was going to retire over a year ago that was the vision that I had. I had a vision of just walking away from the sport and starting a new chapter of my life and really going to explore something completely different and I just feel like God has me here for a reason. I really do. I feel like the people and the relationships and everything, and, honestly, the opportunities to stay involved in the sport and continue to work with TV partners or different race teams. Even with drivers, there are opportunities to help some young drivers speed up their learning curve and coach them along, so there are several different opportunities out there that I’m excited about, and we’ll see how it all works out.”
The 39-year-old Almirola was set to step away from racing after the 2022 season before being convinced to return. Coinciding with his announcement Saturday, Smithfield Foods also confirmed it was not returning to NASCAR next season.
“I think they were mixed,” Almirola said of his longtime sponsor. “They’ve been a wonderful partner. We’ve worked together for 12 years, and not only have they been great for me, they’ve been great for our sport. They’ve been a mainstay for our sport for 12 years. They’ve been one of the highest-paying and longest-standing sponsors of our sport at the level that they’ve been at. They’ve taken a lion’s share of the season on my race car for over 12 years. They’ve been sponsoring anywhere from 26-30 races a year for 12 years, so that’s been phenomenal and, honestly, in this day and age, kind of unheard of.
“They had mixed emotions. They looked at it as an opportunity to try and step back and see what other ways they could get creative with marketing and doing what they do, but at the same time, they were disappointed to see the end of a relationship.”
Stewart-Haas co-owner Tony Stewart said in a statement, “I’m proud of everything Aric has accomplished and am especially proud that his last six years have been with Stewart-Haas Racing. He and Smithfield formed an incredible partnership that resonated on and off the racetrack, 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. Stewart-Haas Racing will remain a four-car team in the NASCAR Cup Series and we will announce a new driver for the No. 10 team, along with new partners, in the near future.”
A full-time Cup Series driver since 2012, Almirola spent six years driving for Richard Petty and won his first Cup Series race with Petty at Daytona in the summer of 2014. He joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, finishing a career-best fifth in the championship standings, and has two victories with the organization.
“It’s been great,” Almirola said of driving for Stewart-Haas. “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’ve 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.”