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Stewart-Haas Racing’s big and uncertain future in NASCAR

Stewart-Haas Racing's future in NASCAR remains uncertain as drivers are likely to retire soon. Let's dive into the latest about the team's potential future.

Austin Konenski
NASCAR: Cup Practice
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Stewart-Haas Racing had an up-and-down season as the organization dealt with on-the-track issues and drama off-the-track with silly season rumors and moves. This even continued after the 2022 season concluded at Phoenix Raceway.

Let’s dive into the updates from Stewart-Haas Racing over the course of the 2022 season and what the future holds for the organization moving forward.

Overview of Stewart-Haas Racing’s updates during 2022 season

NASCAR: Cup Championship
Nov 6, 2022; Avondale, Arizona, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Briscoe (14) during the Cup Championship race at Phoenix Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decent start to the 2022 season after Chase Briscoe won his first NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway in the fourth event of the year. However, it was only one of three wins for the organization in 2022.

It would take the team almost five months to enter victory lane again when Kevin Harvick won his way into the playoffs at Michigan International Speedway. Then, Harvick held off a hard-charging Christopher Bell the next race at Richmond Raceway.

That would be the peak of Stewart-Haas Racing’s season. While Briscoe and Harvick made the playoffs, Aric Almirola and Cole Custer got nowhere close to making it and finished 20th and 25th in the point standings, respectively.

Briscoe would make a fairy tale run to the Round of 8 after a very poor regular season and was 10 laps away from making the Championship 4. Meanwhile, Harvick was docked 100 points after the modification of a single source supplied part and struggled in the playoffs.

Outside of the racing on the track, the organization saw some major situations during NASCAR’s silly season process. It was announced before the year that Almirola would retire at the conclusion of the 2022 season.

However, that would not be the case as he announced his intentions to return and signed a multi-year contract with the team. Meanwhile, the drama over Custer’s performances in the No. 41 car continued to carry throughout the season.

Stewart-Haas Racing was forced into a decision as Ryan Preece was announced to take over the No. 41 car on a full-time basis starting in 2023. Custer is set to run full-time with the organization in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with the likely No. 00 car. Riley Herbst will return to the No. 98 car as Custer’s teammate.

What does the future look like for Stewart-Haas Racing as rumors and uncertainty over their future driver lineups continue to swirl?

Related: Kevin Harvick set to leave Stewart-Haas Racing after 2023

Stewart-Haas Racing’s future in NASCAR beyond 2023

Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing
Nov 6, 2022; Avondale, Arizona, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) during the Cup Championship race at Phoenix Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Stewart-Haas Racing’s future in both the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series remains murky at best. Outside of Briscoe, the Cup Series lineup seems very fluid while the Xfinity Series is not at the level it needs to be right now.

Granted, Custer moving back down to the secondary series should instantly make him a Championship 4 contender right off the bat. Herbst could benefit from Custer as he made steady improvements in 2022.

The idea of Hailie Deegan joining the organization was thrown around but with Preece entering the No. 41 car, this might be something that is held off for one more season. Of course, Ford needs to go all-in with its prospects as the pipeline is not too strong.

There is not much to talk about relating to the Xfinity Series at this point so the attention should be squarely on the Cup Series. In fact, there is a massive reason why this should be the primary focus.

Harvick is expected to leave Stewart-Haas Racing at the conclusion of the 2023 season as his contract with the organization expires. The 2014 Cup Series champion would be 48 years old to start the 2024 season.

The organization will obviously push for a contract extension but at that age, it would be expected for Harvick to turn the page and focus on his family. If so, this leaves a massive hole within the lineup.

Briscoe should represent the future while Preece has a big opportunity to prove himself. Almirola won’t stick around for much longer so that is two seats at least that will be open soon due to retirements.

Who is next in line for the organization? Maybe, it will use the Xfinity Series as a reset for Custer and bring him back up when the time is right. There are not many obvious options outside of him.

There could be some bold options like Zane Smith, Todd Gilliland, and Harrison Burton. They are all within the Ford family and would receive better equipment than what is provided right now.

Plus, what if the Preece experiment doesn’t work out? That could be three open seats for Stewart-Haas Racing in a few years. There is so much uncertainty for the organization. It rivals the questionable future for Joe Gibbs Racing in terms of unpredictability.

Either way, the 2023 season needs to represent a return to glory after only three victories. However, Harvick’s possible retirement could swing that in either direction moving forward.