He’s back: Aric Almirola returns at New Hampshire, as team debuts throwback scheme for Darlington

Aric Almirola stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Richard Petty Motorsports had a busy news day Wednesday.  At the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, the team announced the return of driver Aric Almirola, and revealed the throwback paint scheme they will campaign at NASCAR’s Darlington race in September.

Almirola, who suffered an acute compression fracture to his T5 Vertebra after a multi-car accident at Kansas Speedway in May, will be competing in his first race after rehab.

The injury, which has a standard healing time of eight to 12 weeks, took eight weeks for Almirola to recover. Throughout the recovery process, Almirola did physical therapy, swam and tested in a simulation and on track environment. A test Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the final step in the process to return to the No. 43 Ford.

“It felt great to be back in the racecar yesterday,” said Almirola. “After racing in the Monster Energy Series for five and a half years, it got to be routine, and I took it for granted. When something gets taken away from you at a moment’s notice like that, it has certainly made me appreciate my passion for racing and my desire to compete at this level. The thrill of running 200 miles per hour in a stock car was something that I had honestly lost a little bit. After being out of the car for eight weeks, the passion is back, now more than ever.

“Physically, I felt great in the car and had no pain associated with the injury during yesterday’s test” he added. “I’d like to sincerely thank all of the medical personnel that have helped me through this process, my family, my friends, my team and all the fans that supported me. I’m very grateful to Bubba (Wallace), Regan (Smith) and Billy (Johnson) for all of their efforts subbing for me both on and off the track. I’m excited to get back to racing against all my friends and peers in the Monster Energy Series.”

Almirola will make one more trip to the doctor Thursday “just to make sure everything looks good,” he said.

The seat inside his car has been changed to improve his posture based on recommendations from the doctor. “That way if I do get in another accident, which is inevitable, I will be in another accident as long as I drive a race car, just trying to have better posture and a better alignment of my spine,” he said. “Because we feel like … it might have happened regardless. But my posture pre-crash was a little bit more curvature of the spine, a little more curled up so that didn’t help things.”

Shortly after the team announced the return of Almirola, they revealed the throwback paint scheme for Darlington.

The scheme will honor his 200th, and final, NASCAR victory at Daytona International Speedway in July of 1984.

“All of the 200 wins were special but the 200th definitely stands out,” said Petty. “We needed every win before to get to 200 but to have the President there was pretty special. It was a story book win on the last lap, in Daytona, on the Fourth of July with the President of the United States there. I enjoy seeing the Throwback deals in Darlington, and this a great one to have on our car this year.”

Almirola, who was just under four months old at the time of Petty’s 200th win, understands the historic importance of his throwback paint scheme.

“When you think of Richard Petty, one of the first moments you think of is his 200th win at Daytona International Speedway,” said Almirola. “It was like a storybook being on the Fourth of July and with President Reagan there. That race is even more special to me with my first Cup Series win coming 30 years later to the weekend in the same Victory Lane. I really enjoy the throwback weekend, and it will be very special to throwback to such a substantial moment in NASCAR history. I always like to have a little fun with it off the track. Although, I’m not sure I’ll be able to top the Fu Manchu this year. We’ll work on it though.”

Beyond the paint scheme, Almirola, his crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, and the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team will also wear throwback firesuits and uniforms throughout the Bojangles’ Southern 500 race weekend.

STP’s tribute to Petty’s 200th win will extend past the throwback paint scheme. As a combination with Petty’s 80th birthday, STP’s Director of Marketing Katina Wall, announced at the unveiling that STP will donate engraved benches to each active track where Petty has recorded one of his record-setting wins. The benches will be engraved with Petty’s career-wins at each specific track.

“When you look back at the top moments in NASCAR, it would be hard not to put Richard Petty’s 200th win at the top of the list,” said Wall. “STP’s relationship with Richard has now surpassed 46 amazing years. We’ve been honored to be a part of his career and on the famous No. 43 for so many of NASCAR’s important, historic moments.

“Richard has always been about the fans. When we were looking at how to celebrate his birthday, we thought a gift that fans could enjoy and appreciate was appropriate.”

The 2017 Bojangles’ Southern 500 will be broadcast live on NBCSN on Sunday, September 3 at 6 p.m., ET.

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