How Aric Almirola’s Retirement Announcement Sets Up Ryan Preece

Cup Series

Getty Ryan Preece (center) could take over for Aric Almirola (right) in 2023.

Veteran NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola announced on January 10 that he will retire at the end of the 2022 season. His decision surprised many people, but it also set up Ryan Preece for another potential full-time opportunity.

Preece, who made 108 starts with JTG Daugherty Racing between 2019-2021, landed a unique deal with Stewart-Haas Racing. The championship-winning organization announced on January 6 that the Connecticut native had signed as a reserve driver.

He will spend the 2022 season working in the simulator and waiting in the wings as a backup option if any of the drivers have to miss time for any reason. Preece will also make 12 starts in 2022 — two in the Cup Series, three in the Xfinity Series, and seven in the Camping World Truck Series.

With Almirola stepping away from the Cup Series after the 2022 season, there will be a potential opportunity for Preece. He could become a fitting replacement for Almirola in the No. 10 Ford Mustang, much like Alex Bowman replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 in 2018 when he was a reserve driver for Hendrick Motorsports.

Preece Had Strong Performances With a Smaller Team

Ryan Preece

GettyRyan Preece prepares for a race at Nashville Superspeedway.

Almirola’s retirement does not automatically mean that Preece will replace him in 2023. However, the option would make sense considering that the 31-year-old has performed well while driving for a smaller team.

The 2021 season, in particular, tested Preece’s skills. He entered the year driving an unchartered stock car, which meant that he had to qualify for each race on the schedule. With fewer than 10 weekends having qualifying sessions, Preece had to perform well enough to guarantee entry into the majority of the races on the schedule.

Preece kicked off the season with a sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500. He added another top-10 finish at the Daytona Road Course and set himself up for the rest of the season.

Preece did not reach Victory Lane during the season, but he posted an average finish of 22.8 with a total of four top-10s and one top-five. His best finish of the year was a fourth-place run in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway to cap off the regular season.

Preece has spent three full-time seasons in the Cup Series and has a total of nine top-10 finishes and two top-fives. Like Almirola, he has performed the best at superspeedways such as Daytona and Talladega.

2 Other Drivers Will Remain Part of the Discussion

Cole Custer Chase Briscoe

GettyChase Briscoe (left) and Cole Custer (right) will face questions about their futures in 2022.

Almirola is a lock to depart Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the year while Kevin Harvick has reiterated that he will finish out his contract that also includes the 2023 season. However, there are two other drivers that will garner extra attention.

Third-year driver Cole Custer and second-year driver Chase Briscoe have each spent several years with SHR, first in the Xfinity Series and then in the Cup Series. They each won Rookie of the Year and had standout moments on the track, but they also finished outside of the top 20 in the championship standings in 2021.

Both drivers will be back with SHR for 2022, but there is no clear information about what the future holds. If they perform well and reach the playoffs, they will likely return to the organization. If they struggle while adjusting to the Next Gen car, there is a scenario where SHR looks for replacements in the No. 14 and No. 41.

SHR will be a team to watch during the 2022 season due to the number of potential storylines. Custer, Briscoe, Almirola, and Preece will all create conversations throughout the year due to their respective future prospects.

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