The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be adding a new driver to their ranks beginning this weekend at Pocono Raceway. Bubba Wallace Jr. will be the interim driver in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entry while Aric Almirola continues the healing process after suffering a T5 Vertebrae Compression Fracture at Kansas Speedway last month.
After the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Pocono, Roush Fenway Racing will suspend operations of their No. 6 entry driven by Wallace Jr. Roush Fenway and Wallace Jr. will continue to look at opportunities for him to get in the Xfinity car when sponsorship arises.
“It's an exciting opportunity not only for myself but my family, first of all, my fans, everybody that's helped me get to this level ever since I started racing when I was nine years old and had dreams of running in a Cup race, making my name present in the sport. So this is the perfect opportunity. So I'm very thankful for that,” said Wallace.
Wallace Jr.’s named emerge shortly after 2010 among the NASCAR ranks through the Drive For Diversity program. While in that program, Wallace Jr. showed success. Wallace reflected on that time and where it lead him today.
“That was a great opportunity that presented itself when we signed on with Joe Gibbs Racing, joined on with Rev Racing at the same time to compete in the Diversity Program, K&N Pro Series East,” said Wallace Jr. “With that success came my career where it is now. So definitely without that on‑ and off‑track success we had in those two years, I don't know if I'd be here today. A lot of that credit goes to those guys over there.”
With this step into Cup competition, Wallace Jr. hopes this opportunity helps open the door for more diversity in NASCAR.
“This is a huge step for NASCAR, the whole sport in general, for bringing diversity to its top‑tier level of 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,” said Wallace. “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 been a fun journey.”
Although the future is uncertain when Almirola returns, Wallace Jr. will make the most out of this opportunity.
“I don't know what's going to happen. One thing I can touch on is I know I'll go out there and prove to everybody inside the racetrack, outside the racetrack, on the TV, that I belong in the Cup Series. Do the best that I can. Give an extra 200% each and every time I climb in the car for Ford, for Richard Petty, for everybody on the team, for Smithfield, to go out there and make the opportunity the greatest it has been,” said Wallace Jr.
Wallace Jr. has five years of experience in the Xfinity Series. He has six top-five finishes, 34 top-10’s, and two poles. Wallace Jr. hopes this chance in Cup brings many more years to come at NASCAR’s top level.
CONCORD, N.C— Following a violent crash at Kansas Speedway on lap 199, Aric Almirola made the trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway to talk about his week following a T5 vertebrae compression fracture. Although it wasn’t in a driver’s suit, Almirola was grateful to be at the racetrack.
“I’m glad to be here, too. I wish I was sitting here in a driver’s uniform, but I’m not. First and foremost, I want to thank God. I didn’t’ think I was lucky. I was pretty upset in the moment and then after meeting with doctors in Kansas and Charlotte I realized how fortunate I was. I want to thank the Good Lord for looking out for me,” said Almirola in his opening statements on Friday.
While walking through the accident, Almirola stated he was a full two seconds behind the accident. He could have missed the wreck, but was committed to the very outside lane. He saw the cars of Danica Patrick and Joey Logano come up the track abruptly into his lane and into the catch fence. While trying to avoid the accident, his car went loose hitting some oil and water resulting in being unable to steer the car.
“I felt like from that point my car was on railroad tracks and I was just headed straight for the wreck. There was nothing I could do. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I feel like I’ve always been able to miss wrecks, especially from that far back,” said Almirola.
Almirola knew that the wreck was coming and braced for impact. At the moment of impact, Almirola felt a sharp pain in his back; A moment he said “felt like somebody stuck a knife in my back.” He then realized his car was airborne because he could see the asphalt. That “knife in my back” moment was made worse when he landed because it felt like “somebody took that knife and just twisted it up in my back.”
Almirola is scheduled to be out of the car for eight to 12 weeks. He is not “happy” about it, but does want to make sure that it is properly healed before getting back in the car.
“Getting back in a race car two weeks too soon is just gonna add two more starts to my start column and the stat book, but if I were to get in another similar accident and not be properly healed, you’re talking about potentially being paralyzed from the belly button down, so I’m not gonna risk that,” said Almirola. “I’ve got a lot of baseball to play with my son and I’d like to dance with my daughter one day at her wedding, so I’m not gonna risk it. Whenever the doctors clear me, I’ll be ready to get back in a race car.”
With the timetable of return being eight to 12 weeks, Almirola will be unable to make the Playoffs in September. Almirola will not use that as an incentive to get back in the car as quickly as possible.
“I think the incentive to make sure that I can run around in my front yard with my kids is enough for me to not rush back. I’m gonna listen to the doctors. I’m young. I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me. I’ve got a four year old and a three year old at home,” Almirola stated. “I’m not gonna do anything stupid to rush myself back in a race car and risk not being able to feel anything from my belly button down for the rest of my life. That’s most important to me. Being out 8-12 weeks and not having a chance at the Playoffs, obviously that stinks, especially coming off Talladega.”
William Heisel, Director of OrthCarolina Motorsports, said Almirola’s injury was worse than recent injuries of Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin and explained what Almirola will have to go through.
“This fracture is at a higher level than the injuries that Denny sustained or that Tony sustained. This fracture though has outstanding healing potential. Because of the location it’s a very stable fracture from the standpoint that the ligaments that connect the bones are all intact and they’re all doing well based on the imaging studies that we’ve obtained so far, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Heisel. “The bone is, for lack of a better term, crunched and it’s something that first and foremost we’ve got to get some of the edema or some of the blood out of the bone and that is something that is a time phenomenon as much as anything. And then we have a lot of work to do from a physical therapy standpoint. That days that Aric is not available to move around because of the pain and because of the guarding are days that he’s not using those muscles fully and we’re going to have to rehabilitate those. So there’s definitively some physical therapy to come. We want to deal with the acute pain phase first and foremost. Aric alluded to the brace and this is a fracture that we don’t need a brace in this case because his rib cage effectively works as a brace. The term that we use is the rib cage works effectively as an external fixation device because it connects to the spine and connects to the sternum, so the location of it as well also facilitates the healing close to the heart and close to the lungs.”
For Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM), the process of working to find a replacement driver for the duration of Almirola’s absences is still “a work in progress”, according to Brian Moffitt, Chief Executive Officer for RPM.
“We’re working with our partners. The process was we wanted to make sure that Aric was OK when this happened. Our worries were for him and what the future was gonna be and Janice and the kids. We were mainly concerned about Aric when it happened. We have a protocol that we go by and having Aric and Janice and all of our thoughts and prayers were first and foremost,” said Moffitt. “The process that we had was when we got back to North Carolina the King and Drew and Aric and I sat down and came up with a list of people after we knew what the diagnosis was and we’re still working through that with our partners. As soon as we know for the future we’ll be letting you guys know that, but right now we’re thrilled that Regan’s going to be in the car for this weekend.”
Moffitt mentioned that the team wanted a “Cup driver for this situation and Regan stepped in and we feel like he’s gonna bring the car home safe and consistency is what we were looking for and he has that type of record. He has that type of record. He drives a lot like Aric and that’s what helped us come to this conclusion.”
This week has been a whirlwind for Regan Smith. Smith received a call from RPM on Wednesday morning asking if he would be able to drive the car this weekend. Smith quickly responded with “absolutely” before getting everything ready for this weekend.
“I’m focused on this weekend right now and we’re going to do the best we can for their partners and for their team this weekend and see how things progress going forward, but I’m gonna focus on this weekend and do a good job for them this weekend,” said Smith outside the hauler.
Smith has numerous experiences as a replacement driver. Smith has replaced Stewart, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kyle Larson before this weekend. Although he does not have a full time ride in Cup, Smith runs in the Camping World Truck Series for RBR Enterprises. Smith has 211 starts in Cup with one win, four top-five finishes, and 13 top-10’s.
TALLADGEA, Al— After a last lap charge from the back of the field, Aric Almirola was able to hold off the charge to win the Sparks Energy 300 from Talladega Superspeedway. Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Ryan Siege spun on the backstretch, but the caution did not fall. Almirola lost the draft after a long green flag run in the final stage, but a caution flew for debris giving Almirola the chance to head to victory lane.
“It means so much. First, I want to thank God. And then I want to thank Fresh from Florida and everybody at this Biagi DenBeste race team. They let me run this thing seven or eight times a year and I have so much fun, especially at the speedway races. Doug Yates brings some awesome horsepower and our Ford Mustang was super-fast. I knew it right from the beginning of practice. We ran about 10 laps in practice and I said, ‘Put it on jack stands. We’re ready to go. This thing is fast.’ What an awesome day. I feel really bad about the 16. I got in the back of the 16 and tore up a lot of cars there, but I got a good push and I got in the back of him. I was trying to help him, trying to make the Fords work together and I hooked him, so I feel sorry about that. But an awesome job. I told the kids we were gonna get soaking wet again. They’ve talked about Daytona for a year and it’s just awesome to get this Fresh from Florida Ford Mustang into Victory Lane, so we’ll drink down a cold glass of orange juice and get ready to qualify.”
This is the third career win for Almirola in the NASCAR Xfintiy Series. This is Biagi-DenBetse first win since July 2016 at Daytona.
Elliott Sadler finished second in the Sparks Energy 300. Sadler hit the wall early in the first stage after a charge from Logano. Sadler and his JR Motorsports team worked on the car all day long to finish in the second position. Although he finished second, Sadler was disappointed in the finish.
“I really wanted to win this race today. I came up a little short. I am proud of my guys for battling getting us back to where we need to be, one spot short today,” said Sadler post-race.
Joey Logano finished third in the race. Logano was a contender for most of the race, but debris on the grill towards the end of the final stage gave Justin Allgaier the lead. Logano also had to hit pit road at the conclusion of the second stage to make sure that his lug nuts were tight for the final stage.
"Man we were so close, aggravating, but so much fun. I love racing here at Talladega in these XFINITY cars. The draft is so crazy and different. The runs come so quick and it's hard to block them. You have to physically block them with your car and it's really tight. We came through (Turns) 3 and 4, I thought I had a run and Aric was late to block and I was like, 'This is could be where it all ends (laughs)'. (He) got there just in time and I just got into his rear and had to cross him over. Dang it! I had a good push there at the end with the 2 car and we just couldn't stay attached like we needed to. If the caution came out sooner, we would have won the race. I'm glad they let us race to the end. Selfishly, I wish the caution came out, but for the fans I'm glad that it didn't. We did everything that we could do."
The Sparks Energy Solutions 300 was slowed five times by caution for 20 laps. The red flag was displayed twice for a combined time of 20 minutes and 33 seconds. There were 27 lead changes amongst 13 different drivers.
Sadler continues to hold a 29 point lead over second place driver Justin Allgaier.
Next up for the NASCAR Xfinity Series has two off weekends before the Hisense 4K TV 300 from Charlotte Motor Speedway. That race will be on May 27th at 1:00 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1 and Performance Racing Network.
Aric Almirola edges Justin Allgaier on the last lap that ended in caution to win the Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. Almirola was deemed the winner by inches when the field was frozen at the time the caution flag flew for a multi-car wreck on the Daytona Superstretch. Ryan Seig, Joey Logano, and Brendan Gaughan.. This is Almirola’s 1st Xfinity win in 72 races.
“It’s so cool,” Almirola said. “What a season we’ve had. We’ve had a horrible season on the Cup side. Things just haven't gone our way. But I’m so glad to be in Victory Lane. It’s such a special place for me. I won my first Cup race here two years ago, but for me, this is my first Xfinity win. I know I have a win, but there’s always been that asterisk next to it. But I’ve been dying to get back to Victory Lane in an Xfinity car so I can say I’ve won in all three series without that asterisk (2007 Milwaukee) by my name.”
Allgaier, who could have clinched his spot in the chase, stated that this one “is going to hurt for awhile,” after missing the win by inches.
The Subway Firecracker 250 saw 19 lead changes among 12 drivers. Joey Logano led a race high of 46 laps, followed by David Ragan (18), Elliott Sadler (11), Austin Dillon (10), Chase Elliott (5), Justin Allgaier and Ty Dillon with three, Aric Almirola and Ross Chastain with two, and Morgan Shepard, Brendan Gaughan, and Mark Thompson led one lap.
The caution flag flew eight times for 33 laps. All cautions were for accidents on the racing surface. The red flag was also displayed on the second caution for speedway cleanup.
Daniel Suarez still holds the Xfinity Series points lead by 21 over Elliott Sadler, followed by Ty Dillon (-35), Justin Allgaier (-68), and Brandon Jones (-73).
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will travel to Kentucky Speedway for a Friday evening spectacular, the Alsco 300. Coverage from Kentucky will begin at 8:30 on the NBC Sports Network and Performance Racing Network.
In the two practice sessions on Saturday in preparation for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, Joe Gibbs Racing looked to be the team to beat. In each of the two one-hour sessions, it was a JGR Toyota who set down a fast lap in the opening minutes that would not be beat.
Over the span of the two hours there were three separate incidents that would send two teams to backup cars.
Carl Edwards paced the opening hour of practice at 187.906 mph. After qualifying fifth on Friday, the driver of the No. 19 car is looking to return to Victory Lane in Southern California for the first time since 2008.
He was just ahead of another Toyota, Martin Truex, Jr. with Furniture Row Racing. The No. 78 team welcomed back crew chief, Cole Pearn, following his one-race suspension last week in Phoenix. He put down a lap at 187.632 mph.
Third quick was Ryan Newman at 186.640 mph, more than two-tenths of a second off the fast time. Kyle Busch was fourth and pole-sitter Austin Dillon rounded out the top five at 186.587 mph.
Just outside of the top five was Paul Menard in sixth, making all three Richard Childress Racing cars inside of the top six. The top rookie was Brian Scott in seventh. Two winners so far this season were mired down below 20th, Denny Hamlin 23rd and defending winner Brad Keselowski was just 24th fastest in the morning session.
The first incident of the day came when Aric Almirola slid into the wall off Turn 2, causing significant cosmetic damage. The team would repair the car and return to the track in the second session. The No. 43 car was 19th fastest.
The latter incident came when Kurt Busch pounded the wall right where Almirola did 20 minutes prior. The No. 41 car was not as lucky as the Stewart-Haas Racing team pulled out the backup car, something that Busch appreciated because he was not happy with his primary car on Saturday morning.
In the first two minutes of Happy Hour, Matt Kenseth recorded a lap at 185.419 mph. This practice was in race condition as the Sprint Cup race on Sunday will start at the time that this practice ended.
After being quickest in the first practice, Edwards was second fast, .015 seconds behind his JGR teammate. The No. 19 car was also one of the best on the long runs as were all of the Toyota teams. Toyota is looking for its third win in the last four races at the Auto Club Speedway, which is the backyard of TRD's headquarters.
A trio of Fords filled the next three speeds, led by rookie Ryan Blaney at 185.161 mph. Joey Logano was fourth quickest and Almirola rounded out the top five after getting his car back on track following the incident in the opening session.
Dillon finished the session the lowest he's been all week in sixth, just under a tenth of a second behind Kenseth. Keselowski made improvements to his car and finish Happy Hour 12th.
While the one-lap speed didn't show it, Kevin Harvick had the fastest car on the long run. He was only 27th on the speed chart, but had very little fall off in his tires compared to other teams. The California native is a two-time winner at his home track, the last win coming in 2011 with RCR.
The biggest incident of the day came 32 minutes into final practice when Kyle Larson got loose getting into Turn 4, by the time he could correct it Greg Biffle drilled him in the rear and the tandem spun to the infield. The No. 16 car was on fresh tires, going approximately 20 mph faster than the No. 42 car at the time.
Larson would go to a backup car with a ton of cosmetic damage to the right rear of the car, while it looks like Biffle will remain in his primary car on Sunday. Before the incident the No. 42 team had the 26th fastest time, while the No. 16 team had the 15th fastest lap.
The green flag will drop at 3:30 p.m. Sunday to start the Auto Club 400 where another driver will look to clinch their birth into the Chase.