Aric Almirola Can’t Seem to Retire
Aric Almirola announced the 2023 Cup Series season would be his last, marking the second time the 16-year Cup Series veteran announced he was retiring. But like the first time Almirola announced he was leaving the sport, his “retirement” is short-lived.
Almirola will run a part-time schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2024 Xfinity Series, the team recently announced.
Almirola will drive the No. 20 JGR entry and split time with John Hunter Nemechek, who will also pilot the No. 42 Legacy Motor Club entry in the Cup Series full time in 2024. JGR didn’t release details of which races Almirola will pilot the No. 20, only that Nemechek will be behind the wheel for 10 races and that “majority” of the No. 20’s schedule will be with either Almirola or Nemechek driving.
The announcement marks Almirola’s return to JGR. The Tampa, Florida, native began his Xfinity career with JGR in 2006. He earned his first Xfinity Series win in 2007 at the Milwaukee Mile under controversial circumstances. Almirola started the race in the No. 20 but was replaced by Denny Hamlin after 59 laps due to sponsor commitments. He later requested to be released from the team and joined Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Almirola competed full-time in the Cup Series from 2012-23, earning three wins and a top-5 points finish in 2018. He has four race wins in the Xfinity Series, including the 2023 race at Sonoma.
Almirola’s return marks the second time he has effectively backpedaled on a retirement announcement. He announced prior to the 2022 season it would be his last. However, Almirola changed course and signed a two-year contract with Stewart-Haas to continue driving for the No. 10 team. Late in the 2023 season, he again announced he would be retiring, at least from full-time competition.
It appears this time he’s sticking with the plan.
In an interview with NASCAR.com, Almirola said he still feels he has “a lot left to give to this sport.” Still, he wants to avoid the 36-week grind of a full Cup schedule.
Almirola will join a completely revamped JGR Xfinity lineup for 2023. He will serve as a veteran among a field of young drivers.
JGR also announced Sheldon Creed, who earned seven top-five finishes in the 2023 Xfinity Series with Richard Childress Racing, will pilot the No. 18 JGR full-time in 2024. Chandler Smith will drive the No. 81 full-time for the team after making the jump from Kaulig Racing. Smith earned one win and 13 top-10s during the 2023 season in Xfinity. He replaces outgoing driver Sammy Smith, who joins JR Motorsports for 2024.
JGR is fielding a fourth car piloted by four drivers throughout the season. The No. 19 will be driven by Taylor Gray, Ryan Truex, Joe Graf Jr. and William Sawalich. Truex and Graf each raced for JGR in the 2023 season. Graf Jr., who competed in the Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series last season, will make his Xfinity debut with the No. 19. Sawalich will make his debut in the series at Homestead-Miami Speedway following his 18th birthday driving a three-race stint for the team. The 17-year-old is the defending ARCA Menards Series East champion.