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Aric Almirola ponders Cup return for next season

LOUDON, N.H. — Aric Almirola, who announced before the season that this would be his last full-time year in Cup to focus on his family, could hold a key to the rest of Silly Season.

Chatter has built around Almirola possibly returning to the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team with sponsor Smithfield for at least a partial season, if not a full-time effort. That car is one of the highest-profile cars without a driver announced for next season.

Only Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 is a higher profile car, but JGR and Toyota officials insist they’ll re-sign Kyle Busch once sponsorship is secured.

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Should Almirola return, even if only to run select races, it likely would close an option for drivers who would not want to share a Cup ride.

Almirola said he’s getting questions about his future from more than reporters these days.

“It keeps getting brought up, and the chatter turns into real chatter,” Almirola said Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “More questions are getting asked by decision makers.”

“It puts that in my head to where I should at least give it thought.”

Asked if a full-time effort was out of the question because of his desire to spend time with his wife and two children, Almirola said: “There’s a lot of moving parts, and there’s a lot of things to juggle. That’s a hard sell. I’ve learned teams and the sponsor, they want consistency.

“For me, it is really hard to wrap your head around the full-out commitment of what this sport takes.”

With his son about to turn 10 and daughter turning 9 later this year, Almirola said they are key factors in any decision to return. He knows the older his children get, the more they’ll want to spend time with friends.

“I just know that I have such a short window to be involved in their life in a meaningful way where they want me around,” said Almirola, who won last year’s race at New Hampshire. “I’ll always be involved in their life, but there will only be a short time where they want me involved, and I don’t want to miss that opportunity … I don’t want to miss that window.

“As I evaluate where to go from here and give it real thought, their opinion matters to me because I want it to be to where it is a family decision because I originally made that decision based on my family. That won’t change going forward.”