Aric Almirola looks to be back in No. 43 car in July

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Aric Almirola says he hopes to be back in a car next month, returning about two months after he suffered a T5 compression fracture in a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway.

Almirola told NBC Sports on Tuesday that doctors were encouraged by what they saw in a scan of his vertebrae last week. He is scheduled to have another scan June 28. That will give doctors a better idea of when Almirola can return to driving the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

He’s hoping it will be New Hampshire (July 16) or Indianapolis (July 23), if not sooner. Darrell Wallace Jr. is driving the car until Almirola returns. Wallace finished 26th Sunday at Pocono in his first race in the car. Regan Smith drove the No. 43 for three races, including the Monster Energy Open, before Wallace took over the ride.

Almirola was injured May 13 when his Ford slammed into Joey Logano’s Ford with such force that it lifted the car’s rear about 6 feet in the air before it slammed to the ground. Almirola was kept overnight in a Kansas City hospital before returning home.

He is undergoing laser therapy, massage therapy and swimming as part of his rehabilitation. His range of motion has returned, as he exhibited Tuesday by swinging his arms high above his head and squatting — things he couldn’t do after the accident.

Almirola said the bone split all the way around. The laser therapy helps regenerate that area. Swimming also works his back and helps with his range of motion.

The key, Almirola admits, is not doing too much during his recovery.

“You want to start doing everything you used to do,’’ he told NBC Sports. “I feel great standing here. I want to go up in the gym and I want to grab the 60-pound dumbbells and go sit down and start bench-pressing, but I can’t do that. I feel like I could right now because there’s no pain. I physically can’t do that. The torque on my back, the load on my spine, I can’t take that right now.

“I have to be aware of what my limitations are because I don’t want to set myself back. I’m doing so well in the recovery process. It’s about getting my range of motion back, getting my mobility back, getting my cardio back. I’m going to have to slowly work on my strength until the bone is all the way healed because I don’t want to re-injure or do something to slow down my recovery and put myself four to six weeks further behind.’’

Almirola also has been getting help from his children, Alex, 4, and Abby, 3. They’ve made sure he’s not exerting himself too much.

“We’ve been going on a month of telling them, ‘No, daddy can’t do that, I’m sorry my back is hurt,’ ‘’ he said. “Now, they’re just accustomed to it. I think it’s going to be weird for them now when my back is actually healed.

“Now, they’re so used to not getting a piggyback ride upstairs because my back is hurt. Now, they automatically respond, ‘Oh daddy, don’t pick that up, your back is hurt.’ ‘’

Almirola can’t wait until he can pick his children up.

“It will be awesome,’’ he said. “I miss that.’’

Watch the above video for Marty Snider’s interview with Almirola.

NASCAR America: Navigating Sonoma means plenty of twists and turns

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You turn left and turn right, what’s the big deal, right?

Actually, wrong.

Sonoma Raceway is an extremely technical racetrack full of winding turns both to the left and right.

On Thursday’s NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman took to the iRacing Simulator to show what drivers might expect on the nearly two-mile roadcourse north of San Francisco this weekend.

NASCAR America: Which NASCAR driver is ready for zombie apocalypse?

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Now there’s something you don’t hear NASCAR drivers talk about every day: how to prepare — and potentially survive — a zombie apocalypse.

Our intrepid reporter, Rutledge Wood, threw a number of NASCAR drivers for a loop when he asked them that very question.

The reactions range from incredulousness to seriousness.  Among those Rut talked with included Martin Truex Jr., Elliott Sadler, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones and Kyle Larson.

And here’s a few surprises:

  • Brad Keselowski wants to buy a tank for the apocalypse, and supposedly Dale Earnhardt Jr. is waiting to take delivery on his own tank — both to kill zombies, of course!
  • Several drivers also talked about one of their former own who reportedly has already made big plans to take on any zombies that come across his path. As Wood said, that former driver’s name rhymes with Schmarl Schmedwards.

Check out the hysterical video — trust us, it WILL make you laugh — if for nothing else the outlandish responses from some of the drivers.

But it also makes one wonder: what if a zombie is among us and he’s disguised as a zombie? What then — and who might it be?

NASCAR America: John Hunter Nemechek looks to overcome small team, funding

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The good news for John Hunter Nemechek was with his win last weekend at Gateway, he and Nemco Motorports qualified for this season’s Camping World Truck Series playoffs.

But there is potential bad news, as well: because of having one of the smallest teams in the truck series and limited funding, Nemechek and his team are going to need more financial help, lest they potentially can’t afford to race for the championship in the playoffs.

Nemechek talked about that with NASCAR America on Thursday’s show. See the above video.

NASCAR America: Papis teaching next generation of NASCAR champions

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Even though much of his racing career was spent in open-wheel competition, it may surprise some to know Como, Italy native Max Papis has a combined 95 career starts in NASCAR across its three racing series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

Papis’ versatility has proven invaluable in mentoring a number of young drivers with the potential of some day becoming NASCAR champions, including current student William Byron.

Papis spent Thursday on NASCAR America talking about what makes a good young driver and how he enjoys his role as a mentor and teacher.