Published on July 14 2017 6:19 am
Last Updated on July 14 2017 6:19 am
Richard Petty Motorsports feels it finally has its team back together after more than two months of substitute drivers and crew chiefs.
When Aric Almirola broke his back in a crash May 13 at Kansas Speedway, the team already was without crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, who was serving a three-race suspension for failing postrace measurements a week earlier at Talladega.
After missing eight weeks because of the partially crushed vertebra in his middle back, Almirola, in his sixth year at RPM, is set to return this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Substitute drivers Regan Smith (three events), Darrell Wallace Jr. (four races) and Billy Johnson (road-course at Sonoma) did a solid job for the organization. Wallace posted back-to-back top-15 finishes, where the team felt it was when Almirola got hurt — Almirola had finishes of ninth and fourth the two weeks prior to Kansas. But the team is obviously glad to have its driver back behind the wheel.
“It’s great — it puts the team back together,” team co-owner Richard Petty said. “Bubba [Wallace] did a heck of a job. He kept getting better and better because the crew started learning him and he started learning the crew.
“Aric has already been there. So this puts the full team back together.”
Almirola said he has an additional boost, with a new feeling getting back into the driver’s seat. When he tested Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to make sure that he was OK, he probably never looked more forward to turning laps at 8:30 in the morning.
“In the very beginning [of my career], it was all very new and very exciting and after a while, it was just what I did — I got on an airplane on Thursday, I flew to the race track and I raced that weekend and we did the best we could and came home,” Almirola said.
“It got very routine and very monotonous. And not that…