Aric Almirola thrilled to return to action after injury

LOUDON, NH - JULY 14: Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Smithfield Ford, answers questions from the media after practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton's 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 14, 2017 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

LOUDON, N.H. – After turning 26 laps in opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday, Aric Almirola said he felt as good as he did before the crash at Kansas that broke his T5 vertebra.

Back in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford after missing eight races as he recovered from the May 13 injury, Almirola can thank his diligent attention to his rehabilitation for a return to action as early as possible.

“The doctors from the very beginning were very clear to me that 8-12 weeks at best was the time frame,” Almirola said after posting the 22nd-best practice speed at the one-mile flat track in preparation for Sunday’s Overton’s 301 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “It was more probably to be upwards of 16 weeks.

“I was concerned about the later return, and so I was really diligent with my recovery and my rehab and all my therapy. To be able to come back right at eight weeks just so happened to be Loudon, New Hampshire.”

Almirola considers the Magic Mile an ideal track for his return.

“Of all the tracks you look at on the schedule, this is certainly the one that has the least amount of loading as far as banking and speed is concerned,” said Almirola, who tested at Charlotte on Tuesday before coming to Loudon. “It’s a great race track for me to come back and knock the cobwebs off and not really put my spine through a lot of loading for a long period of time.

“I think Charlotte, Texas, Dover—those kinds of places would probably be a lot worse, but I feel great. I ran a lot of laps at Charlotte. We were there for four hours. I was pretty much in the car a large majority of the time, and I felt great inside the car. I don’t really foresee any issues. I might have some soreness after the race, but I think that’s to be expected, as far as my doctors are concerned.”

Above all else, Almirola is ecstatic just to be racing again.

“I am stoked,” he said. “Really excited … It felt really nice to be able to walk through the garage and see all my peers and guys in the garage area, to have so many people that walk by and say, ‘Hey, welcome back.’ It certainly makes me feel good.”

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