Kevin Harvick announced early Thursday morning that he would retire from the NASCAR Cup Series at the conclusion of the 2023 season. This leaves Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 car up for grabs in 2024.
Let’s dive into three bold candidates for Stewart-Haas Racing to consider in 2024 after Harvick hangs up his steering wheel.
Todd Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports
Todd Gilliland finished his first full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports in 2022. Gilliland’s teammate Michael McDowell did have the best season of his career but this was a major jump for Gilliland.
The driver of the No. 38 car concluded the year with one top-5 finish and two top-10 finishes with a 28th-place finish in the point standings. While the final position in the point standings is not fantastic, it will only get better moving forward.
Gilliland is one of Ford’s bright spots when it comes to future drivers. The Ford pipeline of prospects is not very strong so elevating a young driver to replace Harvick in the No. 4 car is not a bad idea.
There are veteran drivers that make sense but Gilliland has the potential to be a very solid driver. It would be a nice fit and allow him to grow alongside others such as Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece.
The next driver on the list might not come as a surprise, but it would be a very bold move to elevate him to Stewart-Haas Racing’s program in the Cup Series at this point in time.
Riley Herbst, Stewart-Haas Racing
Riley Herbst concluded his second season with Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and it was certainly an improvement over the 2021 season. While it did not end with a victory, the signs of development were certainly visible.
Herbst had a line of eight top-5 finishes and 20 top-10 finishes with a 10th-place finish in the point standings. As stated above, the driver of the No. 98 car did not win an event but the other statistics were really solid.
The next step for Herbst is to grab that elusive victory. With drivers such as Ty Gibbs, Noah Gragson, and A.J. Allmendinger all moving to the NASCAR Cup Series, it opens the door for more growth in the future.
This year could represent his time to win races. If so, the 23-year-old driver could be in line for a possible promotion. However, it all depends on the development that occurs from last season.
Finally, the most notable driver on this list will almost surely have an opportunity to make the step to NASCAR’s top level after a very successful 2022 season.
Zane Smith, Front Row Motorsports
Zane Smith represents Ford’s best prospect in NASCAR and that was evident during the 2022 season with Front Row Motorsports in the NASCAR Truck Series. Smith ended the year as the Truck Series champion.
The driver of the No. 38 truck beat out Ben Rhodes, Chandler Smith, and Ty Majeski to claim the title. It was Smith’s first championship after finishing second place in the Championship 4 over the last two seasons.
Smith had four wins, 14 top-5 finishes, and 19 top-10 finishes in 23 races this season. Plus, the 23-year-old driver will be competing in select NASCAR Cup and Xfinity races during the 2023 season.
Therefore, if Stewart-Haas Racing wants to hire Smith as their driver, he will have recent experience in NASCAR’s top two levels. This could be the most reasonable jump for the young driver as well.
If none of these options come to fruition, Stewart-Haas Racing can always bring Cole Custer back to the program. Either way, it will be impossible to truly replace a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.