By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (AP) - Aric Almirola has been officially named Danica Patrick's replacement at Stewart-Haas Racing.
The move was expected after Smithfield Foods moved its sponsorship from Richard Petty Motorsports to SHR for 2018. Almirola has been partnered with Smithfield with Petty.
Shortly after Smithfield said it was moving to Stewart-Haas in September, Patrick said she was not returning to the team next year. Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne also said they were not candidates, which left Almirola as the obvious choice.
Almirola was introduced to the Stewart-Haas employees in a Wednesday team meeting before he was introduced in a news conference alongside team co-owner Tony Stewart.
Almirola was 20th in the standings when he broke his back in May. It caused him to miss seven races, and the team is currently 29th in the standings. He did make NASCAR's playoffs, in 2014, after he won at Daytona in July.