With every season that passes, it feels as though NASCAR Cup Series silly season is beginning earlier and earlier. Case in point, Tyler Reddick and 23XI Racing have already announced their impending relationship for 2024 – and we’re not even done with 2022.
In this instance, we’ve known since January that Stewart-Haas Racing would have a vacancy for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, with the announcement that Aric Almirola would be retiring from full-time competition at the end of 2022.
Even though Stewart-Haas Racing has quite a few options available to them, as far as the team’s vacancy for next season is concerned, rumors have been flying around the garage area about who will be piloting the No. 10 in 2023.
Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing have still not agreed to a contract extension, leaving the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s status with the organization unknown beyond the end of this season.
Ryan Preece – who was tapped as a reserve driver for Stewart-Haas Racing this season alongside a part-time schedule in all of NASCAR’s top-three series – has yet to officially solidify his plans for next season.
Riley Herbst, the organization’s full-time Xfinity Series driver, and Zane Smith, a development driver for Ford Performance, are also in the same boat, having not determined their 2023 plans, at this time.
Yet, when it comes to finding the right person to drive the No. 10 next year, Greg Zipadelli, Chief Competition Officer at Stewart-Haas Racing, told members of the media on Wednesday that he’s not overly concerned.
“To me, it’s not a big deal,” Zipadelli said. “We’ve waited a lot longer to make some of those decisions to try to build around, so I think we’ll be fine there. We’ve got a couple of good options and just kind of waiting to see how everything plays out.”
According to The Athletic, the possibility does exist that Aric Almirola could return to Stewart-Haas Racing full-time in 2023, with the team instead electing to bounce Cole Custer from their four-car fleet.
When asked if Custer will continue with SHR in 2023, Zipadelli responded with: “Right now, I believe that’s what our plan is right now. We’re just looking and trying to sort out the No. 10 car at this particular time.”
Another wrinkle in the framework for Stewart-Haas Racing’s 2023 plans is the team’s NASCAR Xfinity Series program, which currently fields the No. 98 Ford Mustang full-time for Riley Herbst.
While Zipadelli didn’t confirm if Herbst would return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series program in 2023, he did state that the organization would likely be returning to the series full-time.
“We’re right in the middle of those negotiations right now,” Zipadelli stated. “Probably, more than likely, we’re going to have an Xfinity team, but we don’t have all that locked up yet. I think in the next 10 to 14 days we should have things ironed out and be able to let the world know what we’re doing.”
As for a potential expansion in the second-tier series, Zipadelli was hesitant to completely close the book on the hypothetical situation but stated the odds of it happening for 2023 weren’t very likely.
“If we had the right deal, we would be excited about doing it, but I don’t know that we’re in the position or have all the key ingredients to do that – basically funding any younger driver that we believe in could be in one of our Cup cars in the future right now,” Zipadelli explained. “I would not say never, but that’s not very likely.”
When it comes to next season, Stewart-Haas Racing will have a number of choices to make surrounding their driver lineup, choices that could impact the long-term sustainability and growth of the organization across the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series.