Aric Almirola will return to Richard Petty Motorsports at New Hampshire

Russell LaBounty/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Aric Almirola will return behind the wheel of the No. 43 Ford this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) announced Wednesday morning that Almirola, 33, has been medically cleared to return to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series following a Tuesday test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Tampa, Florida native has been out since the May 13 race at Kansas Speedway, where he suffered an  acute compression fracture to his T5 vertebra in a multi-car crash.

“It felt great to be back in the racecar yesterday,” said Almirola. “After racing in the Monster Energy Series for five and a half years, it got to be routine, and I took it for granted. When something gets taken away from you at a moment’s notice like that, it has certainly made me appreciate my passion for racing and my desire to compete at this level. The thrill of running 200 miles per hour in a stock car was something that I had honestly lost a little bit. After being out of the car for eight weeks, the passion is back, now more than ever.

“Physically, I felt great in the car and had no pain associated with the injury during yesterday’s test” Almirola continued. “I’d like to sincerely thank all of the medical personnel that have helped me through this process, my family, my friends, my team and all the fans that supported me. I’m very grateful to Bubba (Wallace), Regan (Smith) and Billy (Johnson) for all of their efforts subbing for me both on and off the track. I’m excited to get back to racing against all my friends and peers in the Monster Energy Series.”
Almirola was in the midst of his best season statistically prior to his injury. Following a dreadful 2016 season that led to a 26th-place finish in points, Almirola had tallied three top 10s and two top fives in the opening 11 events of the season, with a career-best 17.3 average finish.

With Almirola out for the past eight races, RPM has filled the No. 43 Ford with a group that includes the veteran Regan Smith, a road-course ace in Billy Johnson for Sonoma Raceway and, most recently, Darrell Wallace Jr.. The group combined for a 21.3 average finish over the stint, with Wallace earning a group best 11th-place finish in his final start at Kentucky Speedway.

Almirola currently sits 32nd in the championship standings, eight points off of the top 30. He will require a waiver from NASCAR in order to regain playoff eligibility.

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