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today is Feb 05, 2023

Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Stewart-Haas Racing’s driver lineup may be set for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, but there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the future.

For the sixth time in the last seven NASCAR Cup Series offseasons, Stewart-Haas Racing made a driver change when they announced that Ryan Preece is set to replace Cole Custer behind the wheel of the No. 41 Ford next season.

Aside from his victory at Kentucky Speedway in his rookie season, Custer had a relatively unimpressive three-year run in the Cup Series following his promotion from the Xfinity Series in 2020. Now he is set to drop back down to the Xfinity Series in 2023.

While the team’s 2023 lineup is now set, with each of the other three drivers returning, the organization faces an uncertain future for next year and beyond.

And with Preece having gotten the call for 2023, that eliminates one potential replacement for 2024.

Even though the team have been no strangers to driver changes, they have never made more than one lineup change in an offseason over the last seven years. Could they need to replace half of their lineup in 2024?

Kevin Harvick is without a contract to compete beyond the conclusion of the 2023 season. The oldest driver in the Cup Series most recently signed a new deal in February 2020, and the 2023 season is set to be his 23rd in the Cup Series and his 10th with the Tony Stewart and Gene Haas-owned organization.

He stated last offseason that the initial plan was for him to retire after the 2021 season, so would he really extend a deal past 2023?

The 47-year-old Bakersfield, California native has been one of the outspoken critics of some of the issues with the Next Gen car, and given some of the head injuries suffered by drivers from relatively minor-looking crashes, perhaps he will decide it is time to move on.

Additionally, Harvick has been linked to the third seat in the Fox Sports broadcast booth for 2024. He has long been seen as the type of driver who could go into announcing after his driving career, which he has shown on multiple occasions in the booth for Xfinity Series races.

Fox opted to take the same route in 2023 which they took in 2022 following Jeff Gordon’s departure. Instead of hiring a third analyst to put alongside lead announcer Mike Joy and color commentator Clint Bowyer, they brought in different individuals to fill the third spot almost every week.

This approach effectively means that nobody is committed to that spot for 2024.

Then there is Aric Almirola, who initially announced that he planned to retire at the end of the 2022 season. He changed his mind and signed a deal to remain with Stewart-Haas Racing behind the wheel of the No. 10 Ford for “2023 and beyond”, but there has been some speculation that his new deal contains an option which would allow him to retire after 2023.

When Almirola made his initial retirement announcement, Preece was linked to the No. 10 as his potential successor, since he had literally just signed with Stewart-Haas Racing as their reserve driver for the 2023 season.

With Preece moving to Stewart-Haas Racing anyway, who would replace Harvick and/or Almirola in 2024? Custer’s demotion indicates that he probably won’t be back after just one season in the Xfinity Series, and teammate Riley Herbst hasn’t exactly been impressive in his three-plus seasons in top-tier equipment in the series, posting zero wins.

Even assuming Preece performs well in 2023 and returns in 2024, that only means that half of the team’s lineup is solidified for 2024, with Chase Briscoe seemingly being the long-term answer behind the wheel of the No. 14 Ford after a win and a round of 8 appearance in his second season.