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NASCAR: Aric Almirola’s return causes a massive silly season shift

Aric Almirola's return to the No. 10 car in 2023 creates a NASCAR silly season shift. What are Stewart-Haas Racing's plans and how does it affect Kyle Busch?

Austin Konenski
NASCAR
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Aric Almirola is returning to the No. 10 car for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023, according to Motorsport.com. It is not unexpected as Almirola was trending to return earlier this month.

What is the silly season ripple effect and how does this affect Kyle Busch’s free agency?

Aric Almirola returns, plus Stewart-Haas Racing’s plans

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Patrick Breen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Aric Almirola is planning to return for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season despite his intentions to retire at the conclusion of the 2022 season. As stated above, this is not a surprise.

Smithfield Foods wanted Almirola to return to the No. 10 car and they will get his wish in what will now be his final season in 2023. It’s the best outcome for every single side involved.

Stewart-Haas Racing might have lost Smithfield if Almirola decided to step away from full-time NASCAR racing. They would be a major sponsor to lose with the sponsorship troubles involving the No. 41 car.

Speaking of the No. 41 car, Chief Competition Direction Greg Zipadelli talked about Cole Custer returning amid the rumors that he would possibly not return next season.

“Right now, I believe that’s what our plan is right now. We’re just looking and trying to sort out the 10 car at this particular time.”

Greg Zipadelli on Cole Custer returning to Stewart-Haas Racing

If this proves to be true, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cup Series lineup would remain the same for a third consecutive season before a possible mass departure of Almirola, Custer, and Kevin Harvick at the end of next season.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series has also been a topic of discussion and Zipadelli also talked about the process and what to expect from Stewart-Haas Racing in the series.

“We’re right in the middle of those negotiations right now. Probably, more than likely, we’re gonna have an Xfinity team, but we don’t have that all locked up yet. I think in the next 10-14 days we should have things ironed out and be able to let the world know what we’re doing.”

Greg Zipadelli on the Xfinity Series program’s future

It sounds like negotiations are getting closer to being done, but there is still work to do as of now. Riley Herbst, sponsored by Monster Energy, currently drives the No. 98 car for the team.

The idea of a two-car Xfinity Series program for Stewart-Haas Racing was also thrown out to Zipadelli and this is what he had to say on it.

“If we had the right deal, we would be excited about doing it, but I don’t know that we’re in that position of have all the key ingredients to do that – basically funding any younger driver that could be in one of our Cup cars in the future right now. I would not say never, but that’s not very likely.”

Greg Zipadelli on a possible two-car Xfinity Series program

It doesn’t sound likely that Stewart-Haas Racing will field two cars in the Xfinity Series, but it’s a decision that is not being ruled out at this point in time.

How does Almirola’s decision to return affect another prominent figure within the NASCAR silly season market?

Kyle Busch’s free agency becomes clearer

NASCAR: Federated Auto Parts 400
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Busch is still without a contract for the 2023 NASCAR season with many options such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, and 23XI Racing available to him.

Kaulig Racing was discussed on Friday morning as the organization nears a resolution on its 2023 lineup while they look outside of the NASCAR world for more racing opportunities.

It was reported on Monday morning that Stewart-Haas Racing was looking less likely for Busch and it appears that will be the case as Aric Almirola returns to the organization.

However, if Kaulig Racing is looking for a NASCAR Truck Series program, Kyle Busch Motorsports would be perfect as it could become their pipeline of young talent through the ranks.

Still, Busch’s best option is to remain with Joe Gibbs Racing and despite the outside noise of where he may go moving forward, it remains the most realistic option if he wants to compete.

Another option not discussed as much could be 23XI Racing. It would be in Toyota’s best interest to keep Busch as Kyle Busch Motorsports is currently running within the Toyota program.

If Joe Gibbs Racing is truly not an option, 23XI Racing would be the next best option if Kurt Busch, who will be missing the rest of the regular season, retires due to his concussion or other concerns about racing.

At this point, Kyle Busch’s free agency is now officially clearer as Stewart-Haas Racing is off the table. NASCAR’s most successful active driver could possibly find his home soon.

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