With free agents still looking, Aric Almirola emerging as Danica Patrick's likely replacement

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne say they are not potential replacements for Danica Patrick, leaving Aric Almirola as the most likely driver to step into the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 car next season.

Patrick announced Tuesday that she wouldn't return amid SHR's announcement that it had signed Smithfield as a sponsor but wouldn't name the driver until a later date. While Smithfield has sponsored Almirola for the last six years at Richard Petty Motorsports, they might not be paired together initially at SHR to satisfy any contractual restrictions in their move together.

With SHR needing sponsorship for Clint Bowyer (who is signed for 2018) and SHR's Busch still waiting to hear if Monster Energy will continue to back him, SHR has options as far as which driver to pair with Smithfield.

The 33-year-old Almirola has spent the last six seasons at RPM, which announced Tuesday that he would not return to the organization next season.

That left him as one of five free agents from major NASCAR teams along with Kahen, Kenseth, Busch and Patrick. Kahne will be replaced by William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports next year and Kenseth will be replaced by Erik Jones at Joe Gibbs Racing.

"I don't really think the 10 [of Patrick] is an option - it hasn't seemed to be throughout," Kahne said Wednesday during the NASCAR playoffs media day. "I've talked to them and things, but they've obviously been working in other areas.

"I don't know exactly what I'm doing yet, but I hope to figure it out pretty soon."

Kahne said he has toyed with the idea of racing sprint cars and potentially some IndyCar races. He also confirmed he has talked to Leavine Family Racing, a Chevrolet team that could possibly form a technical alliance with Hendrick, which is still has some financial commitments to Kahne because his contract runs through 2018. Michael McDowell currently drives the No. 95 car for Leavine.

Kenseth, who at 45 is the oldest driver on the NASCAR circuit, said he still does not have anything set for next season.

"[Patrick's replacement] is not me -- I can tell you that, it's not me," said Kenseth, the 2003 NASCAR Cup champion. "Obviously, they didn't keep me where I was at, which would have been my first choice.

"There's been a few other rides that were open that were good rides that got filled with other people. So, you know, I don't really know at this minute what's going to happen for next season."

Busch, whose 2018 option at SHR wasn't picked up because of uncertainty in sponsorship, seemed confident he will have a ride.

"You hire good people, and I have a great staff around me with my agency and the trust that I have in people that work for Ford Motor Company, people that work for [team owner Gene Haas'] Haas Automation and the people that work for Monster Energy -- it's having the trust in them and the right people around you in a situation like this," Busch said.

"As soon as I have more or it's complete, then there will be more updates."