Regan Smith to replace Aric Almirola for All-Star weekend

Nigel Kinrade/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

With Aric Almirola set to miss an undisclosed number of weeks after suffering a compression fracture to his T5 vertebrae in a late crash during Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) race at Kansas Speedway, Richard Petty Motorsports is turning to a name familiar with substitute roles in recent seasons.

Regan Smith.

The team announced Wednesday that Smith will pilot the No. 43 Ford typically driven by Almirola in this weekend’s All-Star Race weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

A one-time MENCS winner (Darlington Raceway, 2011), Smith has a history of substituting for drivers out for injury or other issues. The native of Cato, New York first served substitute duties in 2012, filling in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for two events after NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver suffered a concussion in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

In 2014 Smith was seen again filling on for one of the sport’s most famous drivers, piloting the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International after the three-time Cup series champion’s infamous incident with Kevin Ward, Jr., which resulted in Ward’s death and is still the subject of legal action to this day.

The following year Smith returned to Stewart-Haas Racing, this time to drive the No. 41 typically driven by Kurt Busch for the opening three races of the 2015 season after the 2004 Cup series champion was suspended for alleged domestic abuse. Just three races later, Smith again rejoined the Cup series to fill in for the ailing Kyle Larson at Martinsville Speedway.

In 2016 Smith rejoined the Cup series garage in earnest, completing the full season for Tommy Baldwin Racing en-route to a 34th-place finish in the series standings.

Unable to secure a competitive full-time ride, Smith, 33, has spent 2017 competing part-time for Ricky Benton Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, earning a best finish of sixth at Daytona International Speedway.

Almirola was injured in a crash on lap 200 of 267 in Saturday’s Go Bowling 400 when Joey Logano suffered a right-front brake rotor break going into Turn 1 of the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. Unable to control his car, Logano spun left into Danica Patrick, hooking her No. 10 Chevrolet to the right and sending both drivers into the outside wall with heavy contact. Unable to avoid the carnage, Almirola drove his No. 43 directly into the crash, hitting Logano and Patrick’s machines with such force that the Floridian’s Ford lifted the rear wheels off of the ground.

After the incident, Almirola was carefully extracted from his machine over the course of a lengthy red flag and air-lifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center, where he was given his diagnosis and held overnight. Almirola flew home to Charlotte on Sunday, and has since met with specialists and begun his road to recovery.

Further updates on Almirola’s condition an future plans for the No. 43 team are expected to be announced in a Friday news conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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