Richard Petty Motorsports

Richard Petty Motorsports puts road racer in No. 43 for Sonoma

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Road racer Billy Johnson will drive the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the team announced Monday.

Darrell Wallace Jr., who has driven the past two races for the team for the injured Aric Almirola, will return to the car next weekend at Daytona. Wallace will continue in the car until Almirola returns. Almirola says he hopes to be back at either New Hampshire or Indianapolis in July.

Johnson, who competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will make his first Cup start. He has five Xfinity starts, scoring a career-best finish of eighth at Montreal in 2012.

Johnson has worked with Almirola on his road racing at the Ford Performance racing school at Miller Motorsports Park. Johnson has worked with more than 20 Ford drivers on their road racing skills the past six years.

“It is going to be awesome. It will be my first NASCAR Cup race and to debut in the 43 car, one of the most iconic numbers to ever race in NASCAR, is a huge honor,” said Johnson in a statement from the team. “Richard Petty Motorsports is a great organization. To have the chance to make my Cup debut for the King is surreal, and I appreciate them putting me in the car.’’

Said Brian Moffitt, CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports: “It’s been important for us to put ourselves in the most competitive spot while Aric is recovering. We’ve worked with Ford and Smithfield to put the best driver available in the car each week. Both Regan (Smith) and Bubba (Wallace) have done a great job for us the last five weeks. We feel that Billy’s experience on a road course will help us be competitive this weekend.”

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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: How will Bubba Wallace fare in Cup with Petty, No. 43?

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It’s Bubba’s time.

Richard Petty Motorsports has handed the keys to the iconic No. 43 Ford to Darrell Wallace Jr., even though almost everyone calls him by his colorful nickname, “Bubba.”

Wallace will drive for RPM for the first time in Sunday’s race at Pocono. How long he remains in the No. 43 will mainly depend upon how long it takes for the injured Aric Almirola to return to full health. Best estimate: probably another two months.

So during that time, Wallace — who becomes the first African-American driver to race in the Cup series since Bill Lester in 2006 — will have at least six races or more to prove himself in NASCAR’s premier series.

The other thing Wallace has to wonder is what happens when Almirola does return to the RPM fold?

Will Wallace then return to the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series team — which has suspended operations due to lack of sponsorship — or will he remain at RPM in another capacity, or will he become a free agent?

Wallace’s goal for Sunday’s race at Pocono is simple: he wants to make smart decisions and try to finish in the top 20.

Can he do that? The NASCAR America crew gave their take on Wallace’s great opportunity in Tuesday’s edition of the show.

Darrell Wallace Jr. embraces chance to drive No. 43 but uncertain what’s next

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There are so many ways to view Darrell Wallace Jr.’s NASCAR Cup debut this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

It can be the graduation of another youngster — Wallace is 23 years old — to Cup.

It can be a celebration of diversity. Wallace will become the first African-American driver to race in NASCAR’s premier series since 2006.

It can be the introduction of another personality to the sport. Wallace’s social media account can be entertaining and enlightening.

Above all, this opportunity is temporary.

An uncertain future is ahead for Wallace, who is filling in until Aric Almirola returns. Almirola suffered a compression fracture in a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway. No date has been set for Almirola’s return to the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford but the expected recovery time is two to three months.

When Almirola returns, Wallace might not have his old ride to go back to in the Xfinity Series. Roush Fenway Racing announced Monday that it will suspend operations of that team after this weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway.

Then what?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ Wallace said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “I know I’ll go out there and prove to everybody, inside of the racetrack, outside of the racetrack, on TV that I belong in the Cup series and do the best I can.’’

Such determination can lead to mistakes. Wallace is aware there is a balance he must find on the track.

“There’s no need for me to go out there and try to set the world on fire and try to win races and put myself in a tough spot and not be able to capitalize on it,’’ he said. “If the opportunity presents itself, then we’ll jump on it.

“I’m getting this opportunity because people believe in me and have seen my talents coming up. I have to go out there and just back that up … that I belong in the series.’’

While some drivers might be able to fade out of the limelight during this stretch — the No. 43 car ranks 24th in the owner points standings — Wallace likely won’t because it has been more than a decade since the last African-American competed in this series. Although records are incomplete, he’s believed to be one of less than a dozen African-Americans to compete in NASCAR’s top series.

Wallace acknowledges that his move to Cup “is a huge step for NASCAR. I’m glad to be leading the forefront of that right now. It just shows that we’re trying to bring in a new demographic. We’re trying to bring in a new face, get a younger generation, no matter what color, what age. We’re trying to get everybody involved to bring NASCAR back.’’

It’s a role Wallace admits he feels comfortable leading and has handled previously.

“There’s definitely been some flak in the way,’’ Wallace said of a racing career than began when he was 9 years old. “I’ve been able to handle that the best I could, ignore it, use that as motivation. My mom and dad always told me to block out the bad and take the good from it, use it as motivation.

“I would get the gestures and everything thrown out. We’d show up the next weekend and win. That’s how I was taught.  That’s how I was raised, to ignore the stupidity, continue on and do what I need to do.’’

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NASCAR America: Bubba Wallace to drive No. 43 for first Cup start

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Richard Petty Motorsports announced on Monday Darrell Wallace Jr. will drive its. No. 43 Ford until Aric Almirola comes back from injury.

Wallace will make his Cup debut this weekend at Pocono Raceway. He will be the seventh African-American driver to compete in the Cup Series.

NASCAR America analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton reacted to the breaking news.

“I think Bubba Wallace has done a tremendous job in proving that he has the talent to drive these race cars,” Jarrett said. “He’s very aggressive behind the wheel and I think he’ll be a good replacement there to move forward.”

Said Burton, “I think that’s the real challenge for Bubba, is not trying too hard. … I think in this situation, that’s going to be the key. Get in there, have a good time and enjoy it. Don’t try to do more than you’re capable of doing. They’re giving you a shot for a reason. You don’t have to prove to the world you can win Pocono. Prove to the world that you belong.”

Watch the video for the full discussion.