“I’ll be perfectly honest, this was not a big group of people to choose from,” team co-owner Tony Stewart said in the announcement press conference. “We literally put all of our eggs in one basket.
“I’m not interested in some kid’s father coming and buying their way into the Cup Series. I have zero interest in that. We want guys that earn their way, that work hard, that understand the values that it takes to be a top tier driver, not one that just got his high school diploma and is now, all of the sudden, he’s a Cup driver.”
The decision, and Stewart’s passionate support, gave insight into how SHR picks its drivers. That’s important to note as the organization may be far from done with Silly Season. Aric Almirola, the current driver of the No. 10 Ford for SHR, has not yet made a decision on his future for 2024.
With Berry officially joining forces with SHR, setting up the No. 4, the question now needs to be asked: Who’s going to be behind the wheel of the No. 10 for SHR?
Let’s take a look at the candidates by starting with Almirola himself.
The veteran was set to retire in 2022, but with sponsorship concerns looming for SHR and Almirola regretting his initial decision, he chose to sign a multi-year extension to stay with SHR, keeping the sponsorship dollars flowing with his Smithfield partnership.
But this year, minus a promising run at Atlanta Motor Speedway that ended tragically for the No. 10 crew with a blown tire and a wrecked racecar, Almirola has performed even worse than in 2022. By this time last year, Almirola had two top fives and five top 10s. In 2023, he only has one top 10. Additionally, his average finish has dropped to 22.9, over five positions below last year’s 17.8.
His NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Sonoma Raceway a few weeks ago leaves the decision for Almirola that much murkier. It’s clear the veteran still has something left in the tank. But are this year’s struggles on the Cup level enough for him to finally let go?
Another driver who has waited for this type of top-tier opportunity seemingly forever is one who has raced in the Cup Series for 16 years with underfunded equipment. It’s also a former Daytona 500 champion: Michael McDowell.
In the last two and a half seasons with Front Row Motorsports, McDowell has been consistent and has gotten more out of his equipment than he ever has. Along with the 2021 Daytona 500 victory and his long-time experience, McDowell has consistently run well on road courses, experience and skill at that track type which is better than most of the competitive Cup Series field.
If given the opportunity, McDowell could provide a much-needed boost to the struggling No. 10 team. But would SHR take a chance on a driver who turns 40 years old in 2024?
A third candidate is McDowell’s teammate most weekends, Todd Gilliland.
Gilliland has had success after success in his No. 38 Ford Mustang this season, at one point rattling off five top-15 finishes in the span of seven races. But the time spent jumping between his usual ride with FRM and the much slower Rick Ware Racing entries has been killing his stock price.
Gilliland is also associated with KHI Management, keeping his foot in the door for a potential opportunity with Harvick’s former team.
However, with Gilliland struggling to maintain his ride with FRM, the lack of sponsorship he holds, the small amount of experience he brings to the table compared to other candidates and his ties to his father, David Gilliland, it doesn’t seem very likely that Gilliland lands a ride in the No. 10 right now. You’d have to expect FRM’s Zane Smith is in a similar spot, still getting his feet wet at the Cup level in a limited schedule after winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship last year.
The same healthy skepticism on the chances to land a SHR ride should go with another young driver, Harrison Burton.
Yes, Burton has a great partner in DEX Imaging that can bring in the money, and he is also aligned with KHI Management.
However, with a current overall average finish of 23rd in his 53 starts in the Cup Series, running the same Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 that was competing for the playoffs with its previous driver, Matt DiBenedetto, the likelihood of Burton landing the No. 10 is very slim compared to most.
Speaking of DiBenedetto, he could also be considered a longshot for the ride.
Even without winning, DiBenedetto locked the No. 21 in the playoffs in 2020, and he performed well the next year as well. Not only did he perform above standards for WBR, but he also brought with him character and patience to help guide the team in a good direction.
DiBenedetto also has seven years of Cup Series experience as part of a career in NASCAR that spans back to 2009.
In terms of what is needed to run a Cup Series car and the willpower of an individual, DiBenedetto is very high on that list as a candidate to drive the No. 10.
Let’s hypothesize for a second here for this next one: With Berry signing with SHR, does SHR go back to Chevrolet? Does this open a pipeline with JR Motorsports to get more drivers to Cup rides? And with the veteran experience of Justin Allgaier, does this open the door for SHR to land Allgaier in the No. 10?
It’s another longshot, but don’t be surprised if this could be a situation that plays itself out.
With 20 wins in his Xfinity career and with some experience in the Cup Series as well, Allgaier could be a major dark horse pick to slide into the No. 10.
He carries with him a great partnership with Brandt and has been marinating in the Xfinity Series for eight consecutive years now to add to his 21 years of total racing experience.
Finally, we come to the most bizarre of all options: open wheel takeover 2.0.
When 2009 Formula One Champion Jenson Button made his NASCAR debut at Circuit of the Americas, he described Harvick as one of his racing idols. What doesn’t stop Button from pursuing a full-time ride with SHR?
His age, itinerary, family … who knows?
Theoretically, however, Button could run the full Cup Series schedule if he wants to, and he has more than enough experience with 18 years in Formula One and sponsorship to carry on with a full season.
He recently completed the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Garage 56 entry and is set to return to NASCAR at the Chicago Street Course as well. Will Button give a good, long-term crack at stock cars in the future? Only time will tell.
It will be an interesting summer seeing who eventually lands the No. 10 for 2023, and who knows who Stewart has in his not-so-big group of people? With any luck, Stewart will find the right veteran talent to fill the No. 10 in the future, just as he has done with the No. 4 with Berry.
About the author
Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.
Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.