Aric Almirola will have a scan on his broken back Wednesday and hopes to test a NASCAR Cup car in the next two weeks in anticipation of his return to racing in three to five weeks.
The Richard Petty Motorsports driver, in attendance Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, has rehabbed by running and swimming and is at the mercy of how fast the partially crushed vertebra in his middle back heals. The scan Wednesday will let him know whether it is feasible for him to return for the July 16 race at New Hampshire or whether he would have to wait for the following weeks at Indianapolis or Pocono.
“The biggest thing is just waiting for the clearance from my doctors that the bone is healed enough that I’ll have the confidence and the reassurance from them that if I get in another crash or if I get in an impact, that I’m not at more jeopardy,” Almirola told ESPN in the Sonoma garage.
Almirola went through an intense session last week on a “shaker rig,” which simulated a race track bumpier than any NASCAR track, as well as the jack dropping on a pit stop. Almirola said everything went well and he felt no soreness.
“I feel really good,” Almirola said. “Normal everyday activity is really back to normal for me. I’m just trying to wait on the bone to heal now. … As long as my results come back from the CT scan good, I think everything looks like it should be in order to get back in the race the next three, four, five weeks.”
Having missed four races after being injured in the May 13 race at Kansas, Almirola admitted he has had difficulty watching substitute drivers Regan Smith, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Billy Johnson in the No. 43 car. He has kept up with the team’s practices and listens to the in-car radio during races.
“It’s very frustrating because I’m a racer and I’m very competitive,” said Almirola, who had never missed a race because of an injury. “It kills me to watch other people drive my race car. They’ve done a great job, and I’m appreciative … but I want to get back in the race car.
“This is my team, this my group of guys, and I’m looking forward to getting back in the race car. It does bother me to sit and watch.”
Not under contract for next year, Almirola said he has continued talks with RPM and sponsor Smithfield about trying to stay at RPM, where he has spent the past six years. Almirola had two top-5s and three top-10s in the first 11 races this year.
“Everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports is working hard, and we’re trying to do everything we can to solidify all of our agreements with partners,” Almirola said. “It gets complex, but me taking two months off in the middle of the season certainly presents its challenges.”
When he comes back, Almirola said he doesn’t feel he has to prove anything.