Since reversing his retirement decision last August, Aric Almirola has been on the minds of those following the NASCAR Cup Series beat – with questions of whether or not this season would be the Tampa, Florida native’s final.
And, after months of endless speculation about his future, Almirola finally announced his decision on Saturday, with the news he won’t return to the No. 10 Ford Mustang in 2024, leaving Stewart-Haas Racing with an open seat.
However, nowhere in the four-picture statement he posted to social media on Saturday is the word ‘retirement’ mentioned. That’s because, that’s not what this announcement means for Almirola, at all.
The 39-year-old driver isn’t just hanging up his helmet, telling members of the media Saturday at Martinsville Speedway that he’s hoping to compete part-time in NASCAR next season.
Since first announcing his retirement early last year, there is one thing that has remained steadfast for Almirola: the 38-week grind that he’s been on every year, for the last 12 years, just isn’t feasible anymore.
“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,” Almirola said Saturday. “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.”
A part-time campaign for 2024 isn’t necessarily limited to the NASCAR Cup Series for Almirola, with the four-time Xfinity Series winner saying a return to the second-tier series is also a possibility – as has been heavily rumored in the months leading to the decision.
“I’m excited just about having some weekends off, to 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 amazing conversations over the last four to six months about different opportunities, so I want to stay involved in this 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.”
Almirola says that one of those conversations was with his current team, Stewart-Haas Racing, about potentially finding a scaled-back schedule for him to contest for the organization, one that wasn’t able to come to fruition for 2024.
“All through the summer I worked diligently with SHR and we worked hard to put a program together. I expressed my desire to step back and not continue full-time, and they took that and digested it and we worked hard as a collective group to figure out what that would look like going forward without me in the car, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out,” Almirola added. “It was something that they decided they didn’t want to continue to do, and so I respected that, but at the end of the day, I made the decision on what was best for me and my family, and I was hopeful that it would work out and [Smithfield] would stay with [Stewart-Haas Racing].”
Shortly after announcing he would leave Stewart-Haas Racing, Smithfield, the anchor partner on the No. 10 since Almirola joined the team in 2018, announced that they would no longer be continuing their sponsorship in NASCAR.
Now, instead of referring to it as “retirement” or “the end” for Almirola in NASCAR, the start of the 2024 NASCAR season will begin a brand-new era for the 15-year veteran of the NASCAR Cup Series.
Where this new era takes him, though? That’s yet to be seen.