On January 10th, 2022 Aric Almirola officially announced that the 2022 NASCAR season would be his last, at least as a full-time driver. It seems kind of funny to think about today with all we know now about how that all turned out but that’s what happened.
But before we really get into the meat of whether or not is was the correct move for Almirola to sign a contract extension with SHR, let’s flash back to his 2021 season, when it would appear that all hope was lost.
Coming off of a stellar 10-win season (9 of them being from Kevin Harvick), SHR was looking to crank it up a notch in 2021. Originally, 2020 was going to be the retirement season for The Closer, Kevin Harvick but he signed a 3-year contract extension that would see him stay with the team through at least 2023.
With Custer in the No. 41 and rookie, Chase Briscoe, in the No. 14 replacing Clint Bowyer, it would appear as if the SHR lineup was set for years to come. What followed, however, was one of the worst seasons in team history.
Kevin Harvick went winless in a single for the first time in his career and started off a winless streak that would not be broken until the fall of 2022. With Briscoe struggling to adapt to the Cup Series cars as a rookie and Cole Custer being…Cole Custer, it looked like all was lost for 2021.
That was until Aric Almirola of all drivers was able to deliver the team’s first and only win of the season at New Hampshire that year.
With this underdog victory, Almirola was able to qualify for the 16-driver playoffs along with the winless teammate, Kevin Harvick. Almirola would be eliminated during the Round of 16 finishing 15th in the final standings while Harvick, though winless, would just barely miss the Final Four, ending the season in 5th. E
ven though Almirola did capture this lone victory at New Hampshire, 2021 was, at the time, the worst year of his career while driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. You have to imagine all this was on his mind as he prepared to make his retirement announcement.
But ultimately, Almirola’s retirement would have put SHR in a rough spot.
Kevin Harvick’s future with the team was all but uncertain, Briscoe was improving little by little and Cole Custer was…still Cole Custer. This would mean that there were potentially two open seats at SHR and really nobody ready to fill them, at least at the time. When you also take into account that Smithfield is all but wed to Almirola and would likely have left with him if he had retired, SHR was desperate to keep him.
And on August 19th, 2022 he did what a lot of athletes are doing nowadays and decided to unannounce his previously announced planed retirement.
With 2022 being the worst performing year of his career and 2023 shaping up to be even worse, it’s gotten fans to debate if this unretirement on Almirola’s part was a huge mistake.
The Reddit user, u/JDMcDuffie begged that very question in his post below which seemed to spark a debate amongst fans.
My take on this is, yes, I think Aric Almirola probably should have retired after 2022…if he didn’t want to be limping around for at least one and maybe even two more seasons. But I don’t think his struggles are Almirola exclusive.
Outside of Kevin Harvick, that entire organization as a whole seems to be struggling. I think their situation is most comparable to Hendrick Motorsports in 2017. It was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last year and while yes, he struggled it wasn’t exclusive to the No. 88 Nationwide Chevy. Everybody in the HMS stable what wasn’t Chase Elliott struggled that year, including Jimmie Johnson who was fresh off from winning his record tying seventh Cup Series Championship the year before. That was the end of an era in a lot of ways for HMS.
Gordon retired the two years before. Junior was retiring that year. Kahne was on his way out. And Jimmie only had a couple of mid-pack running years left in him as well. SHR seems to be going through a similar transition…but without the future certainty HMS had in 2017 going into ’18.
Harvick’s retiring after 2023. Almirola was supposed to retire last year and might retire this year. Cole Custer, because he’s Cole Custer, was demoted back down to the Xfinity series to “further develop.” Ryan Preece took his job and while he has shown some promise, he’s still relatively unproven. Same can be said for Briscoe. This leaves a lot of uncertainty with SHR.
TheOrangeFutbol on Reddit made the argument that this kind of lackluster performance is what SHR’s norm is, with only a couple of exceptions.
zinski1990KB1 makes the case that Harvick and Kurt Busch were the driving forces behind a lot of SHR’s success in a post-accident/tragedy Tony Stewart world. All other drivers for the organization were just bodies to fill seats. That includes Almirola.
The original poster JDMcDuffie comes back to point out that crashing in 5 out of 6 races isn’t entirely due to SHR equipment.
Confident-Lynx8404 says that it would appear that Almirola’s heart just isn’t in it anymore, regardless of his performance. Maybe that’s cause to call for retirement?
What do you all think, Daily Downforce community? Should Almirola have retired after 2022? Should he retire after 2023? If so, who should get that No. 10 car? And, perhaps most importantly, do you think that Almirola’s 2022-23 struggles are all on him or is it an SHR equipment problem? Let us know!