It’s good to see Ryan Preece being given the chance to prove himself in a top-notch race car by Stewart-Haas Racing, where he will replace Cole Custer in the No.41 Ford Mustang from next season.
There has been division for some time between the co-owners – Gene Haas & Tony Stewart – about choosing Custer or Preece for the best driver to drive the No.41 team next year – but Custer had his ample chances over the last three Cup years with mostly average results despite the one regular-season win that earned him both a Playoffs spot (finished 16th in points) and the Rookie of the Year award back in 2020 – as SHR demoted Custer down back to their Xfinity team in the No.00 alongside No.98 of Riley Herbst.
Although, I would’ve liked to see Custer help out Rick Ware Racing as SHR’s satellite team and get them up to speed on-track, but then he will most likely be racing for them part-time in the No.15 Cup machine. Sadly, there is nothing much RWR can do other than keep running multiple drivers in the No.15 unless they can find a driver that can cover full season sponsorship, while Rick’s son Cody will always be driving full-time in the No.51 with Nurtec ODT backing.
Meanwhile, on the flip side, this is Ryan’s chance now to turn the No.41 around as a regular front-runner again, which hasn’t really been the case after Kurt Busch last drove for SHR back in 2018. His replacements, Daniel Suarez (2019) and Cole Custer (2020-2022) couldn’t replicate to Kurt’s level on the race track ever since.
If Preece can show that he is capable of winning races in a top-notch car, then it looks like that SHR will have their own Ross Chastain, who had an unreal 2022 campaign finishing 2nd behind champion Joey Logano (No.22 Team Penske Ford) in the No.1 Chevy Camaro ZL1 at Trackhouse.
And as for Custer, going back to Xfinity will help him get used to running upfront again and winning races which hasn’t happened a lot for the majority so far at Cup level. But I’m sure Custer will be ready to go back to Cup again at some point either in the No.10 car or even the No.41 again, with Preece moving to the No.4 team in place of Kevin Harvick after his expected retirement at the end of 2024.
Now we will have to see what Almriola has to say about his long-term future after 2023, especially when he reversed his retirement plans a few months ago. If he does decide to retire this time, then it will be up to Herbst if Custer’s presence will benefit his on-track improvements at last next season. Otherwise, SHR will have to find elsewhere and pluck someone from another team like Erik Jones or Noah Gragson at Petty GMS.