Aric Almirola has been in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2007. Once the 2022 season ends, so will his career.
On Monday, Almirola announced he will retire upon concluding the upcoming slate, citing his wishes to spend more time with family. 2022 will be his fifth season in the #10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.
“I truly enjoy driving race cars and I’m excited to race my heart out in 2022 for Smithfield (Foods, sponsor) and Stewart-Haas Racing, but to be the best in this business, you’ve got to be selfish, and for the last 37 years my life has always revolved around me and what I needed to do,” said Almirola. “I want to be present. I want to be the best husband and father, and that to me means more than being a race car driver.
“It’s one more year where I’m all in on racing, where we’ll do whatever it takes to compete at the highest level. When the season is over, I’ll be ready to wave goodbye. I’ve loved every minute of it, but it’s time for the next chapter of my life.
“(Wife) Janice and I have spent many nights talking about it and the questions are the same as anyone else would have when you’re going to stop doing something. Can I afford it? The answer I kept coming up with is that I can’t afford not to. Will I regret it? I think I’ll regret it if I don’t.
“At the end of this season, we’re going to have a ten-year-old in Alex and a nine-year-old in Abby, and I’m going to have a short window with them while they still think Dad is cool. I want to be there for them and to be a part of the things they’re interested in. Before we know it, they’re going to have car keys and they’re going to be running off with their friends, doing the same things I did when I was 16 or 17.”
After ascending through the regional divisions, Almirola joined Joe Gibbs Racing‘s driver development programme where he met future SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, who was a member of the team’s Cup stable. He first appeared in a NASCAR national series in 2005 when he ran a part-time schedule in what is now the Camping World Truck Series, which he parlayed into a full Truck slate for Spears Motorsports in 2006. In addition to placing eighteenth in Truck points, he made limited starts for JGR in the now-Xfinity Series. In 2007, he won his maiden Xfinity win in controversial fashion at The Milwaukee Mile when he won the pole and dominated before being substituted out for JGR Cup driver Denny Hamlin, whose sponsor Rockwell Automation wished to have an established name in their home race, marking the nadir for Cup drivers dabbling in lower series events. The year also saw him make his Cup début for the team at Las Vegas, finishing forty-first.
He eventually moved to Dale Earnhardt, Inc. for sporadic Cup competition alongside part-time Xfinity and Truck starts. By 2010, Almirola’s Cup career was being spent languishing in backmarker rides, but he was enjoying significant success in the Trucks with Billy Ballew Motorsports as he finished runner-up in the championship with two wins and a thirteen-race top ten streak. This led to a single full Xfinity campaign for JR Motorsports in 2011, placing fourth overall.
His successes in the lower series elevated him to the legendary Richard Petty Motorsports (now Petty GMS Motorsports) #43 Cup car in 2012. Two years later, he won his maiden Cup race in a rain-shortened Daytona July event. After six seasons in the #43, the last of which was marred by a back injury that sidelined him for seven races, he joined SHR for 2018.
Almirola’s first season with SHR proved to be his best by a wide margin. He recorded a then-career best seventeen top tens and won the Talladega playoff race—which saw SHR finish 1–2 after dominating—en route to a fifth-place championship finish; it remains his only top ten points placement in NASCAR’s top level. He returned to the playoffs over the next three years, with 2020 seeing him top his previous best with six top fives and eighteen top tens despite a lack of wins and leading to a contract extension.
2021, on the other hand, would have been a season to forget had it not been for one shining moment. Multiple misfortunes resulted in him having just two top tens and sitting twenty-seventh in points by the twenty-second race of the year at New Hampshire, but Loudon finally gave him a break when he was the leader with seven laps remaining and it was shortened by weather to grant him his second career victory and only win for SHR that year. Almirola finished the year in fifteenth with just five top tens.
“I’ve watched Aric develop into a really good race car driver and it was a proud moment when we were able to bring him to Stewart-Haas Racing,” stated Stewart. “He’s really delivered for our race team and for Smithfield, always putting in maximum effort. I know he wants to go out on a high note and we’re going to give him all the resources to succeed.
“That being said, we also want him to enjoy this season. Aric is a great husband and father, and this year will bring a lot of cool moments that he’ll be able to share with his family. He’s earned this opportunity to go out on his terms.”
Almirola added, “It means a lot to be able to walk away on my own terms. It’s been a great ride. I have been blessed beyond my wildest imagination and I honestly have no regrets.”
While SHR did not immediately reveal a successor in the #10 beginning in 2023, many expect Ryan Preece to be the heir. Preece, a Cup regular from 2019 to 2021, joined the organisation last week as a reserve and simulator driver.