Dark horse replacement for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023?
Stewart-Haas Racing needs to fill at least one seat for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, and they may have to look for a driver outside the organization.
The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season will see at least one driver seat change, with Aric Almirola set to step away from his No. 10 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing after five years.
The 38-year-old Tampa, Florida native announced before the start of the season that he planned to retire from full-time competition at the end of the season, ending a 15-year career at the NASCAR’s highest level.
Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick recently noted that he was ready to retire last year, but has since shifted gears. At 46, Harvick is constantly subject to retirement talk, but the 2007 Daytona 500 champion looks set to finish his contract. It expires in 2023.
Internal options to replace Almirola are limited, with Stewart-Haas Racing fielding only one car outside of the Cup Series: the #98 Xfinity Series Ford for Riley Herbst. Instead of fielding a second car in the Xfinity Series or racing in the Truck Series, they chose to form alliances with smaller teams such as Rick Ware Racing and SS-Green Light Racing.
Reserve driver Ryan Preece could also be an option, but he is not currently a full-time driver. He competes in some races for Stewart-Haas Racing affiliated teams in all three national series.
With limited options to replace the No. 10 Ford for 2023, it could be worth Stewart-Haas Racing looking for an emerging driver outside of the organization.
If Stewart-Haas Racing chooses to seek a driver elsewhere in 2023, current JR Motorsports driver Noah Gragson is what they are looking for.
The 23-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native is currently competing for a one-year contract with JR Motorsports. Moreover, he has already flirted with the Cup Series, driving for both Beard Motorsports and Kaulig Racing this season.
Gragson’s long-time sponsor Bass Pro Shops has ties to Stewart-Haas Racing and team co-owner Tony Stewart does as well, having been Stewart’s sponsor during his Cup Series career.
Gragson paid tribute to Stewart by scaling the fence during his victory celebrations, and Stewart may have already shown his bias towards him. When Gragson wrecked the 2022 Daytona 500, Stewart could be heard saying a silent “dang it” on the Fox show.
While Chevrolet’s departure should occur for Gragson to do this job, it’s not uncommon for a driver to switch manufacturers to land a Cup Series ride.
In fact, he already left Toyota to join JR Motorsports ahead of the 2019 Xfinity Series season after competing for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series, and with a lack of open seats in the Hendrick Motorsports Cup Series team, another change could to be in the works.
Most recently, rookie Harrison Burton left Toyota for Ford to join Wood Brothers Racing for the 2022 Cup Series season, and if mutual interest is there, Gragson could be the next driver to join an aligned team. on Blue Oval.