We officially know three of Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers for the 2018 season.
The team made public one of the worst-kept secrets in the Cup Series on Wednesday when it said Aric Almirola would drive the No. 10 car next season. Almirola is coming with sponsor Smithfield to the team from the No. 43 car.
Stewart-Haas’ deal with Smithfield was announced earlier this fall and Almirola said around the same time that he wouldn’t be returning to the No. 43 car in 2018. With Danica Patrick’s contract up at the end of 2017 with Stewart-Haas, it was entirely logical to assume Almirola was sliding over to fill Patrick’s seat at SHR.
Patrick does not have a Cup Series ride for the 2018 season while Richard Petty Motorsports will field Darrell Wallace in the No. 43 next year. Wallace filled in for Almirola this season when Almirola was sidelined with a fractured vertebra in the spring and summer.
“I’ve raced with [Almirola] and seen him mature into a really good racecar driver,” Stewart-Haas co-owner Tony Stewart said in a statement. “He can compete for wins here at Stewart-Haas Racing and help our other drivers compete for wins. He’s an excellent fit for this team and for Smithfield.”
Almirola has one career Cup Series win, a victory that came in the rain-shortened 2014 July race at Daytona. The win got him into NASCAR’s playoffs for the first and only time. Since then, RPM’s performance has suffered. Almirola has just 11 non-restrictor plate top-10 finishes in over 100 races since that win.
After four-straight seasons of finishes inside the top 20 in the points standings Almirola was 26th in 2016. He’s 29th currently and would be 24th when you extrapolate his points-per-race average out to a full season.
Almirola’s announcement means he joins a driver lineup at SHR that includes Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. The team has said it plans on fielding four cars in 2018 and it stands to reason that fourth car will continue to be driven by Kurt Busch. The team declined Busch’s 2018 option earlier in the season, but Busch doesn’t exactly have anywhere else to go next year. Much like it was logical to assume Almirola was heading to the team long before Wednesday’s announcement it’s logical to assume Busch will stay with the team in 2018. He doesn’t have any better options.
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