Strapping into a racecar is not as easy as it looks.
Each week, whenever I’m sitting in my dorm watching NASCAR, people come up to me with little to no understanding about how the sport works and what it takes to go nearly 200 mph in one of those bulky stock cars. But whenever there is a hard wreck, there is always an understanding that even with the stereotypes surrounding American auto racing, it is certainly no joke.
Stereotypes aside, ultimate precision and the ability to stay focused for nearly four hours are just a small part of what is needed to be a NASCAR driver. Every time one of those cars smashes in the wall, spreading parts and pieces across the track, the talk is no longer about fun and games surrounding the sport. Instead, it is whether or not the person in that racecar can get out under their own power.
Fortunately, injuries are a rarity in NASCAR.
While Almirola is mobile, according to a Richard Petty Motorsports press release, it is likely he will be sitting out of the car for quite some time. Though there is no official timeline, Fox Sports reported that the team did ask Carl Edwards, who respectfully denied the offer, to fill in for the team’s only driver “potentially through Sonoma,” indicating Almirola could be out for at least five weeks.
Q: What does Aric Almirola’s injury mean for Richard Petty Motorsports? – Alyssa R., Roanoke, Virginia
A: Richard Petty Motorsports is finally starting to turn the curve after a heartbreaking 2016 season that eventually led to the team scaling back to one full-time Cup car.
Almirola’s injury — in the midst of a respectable start to the season — is not what this organization needed. Not only is he the team’s lead driver, but he’s incredibly valuable off the racetrack with primary sponsor Smithfield, which partnered with the No. 43 team before the 2012 season. The partnership is known as one that is for the long-term, with Almirola and RPM having one of the few 30-plus-race sponsorships in NASCAR’s premier division.
The main issue here will be evaluating how long Almirola is out of the racecar. If he can come back within a few weeks, it would mean NASCAR is going to likely give him a playoff waiver, meaning he would need to have a win and be in the top 30 in the standings to lock up a spot in the 16-car field.
Currently, Almirola sits 23rd in the standings, 58 points ahead of 30th-place AJ Allmendinger. At Allmendinger’s current pace of finishing an average of 22.7 (averaging 17.3 points), it would take three to four races for Almirola to fall to 30th or below.
Say if Almirola is out for several months, it changes everything for RPM. The team will have to tell its sponsors that it needs one or more drivers to fill in a gap of multiple races. What this means is the organization needs to choose from a pool of drivers with varying experience based upon what the future looks like for its driver.
A solid replacement could be Greg Biffle, who told Frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway that the only way he would consider a ride is if it is competitive and part-time. Well, this could be the opportunity that he has been waiting for to close out his Cup career, though one source-less rumor says he denied the gig.
Meanwhile, Darrell Wallace Jr. might also be fit to get a shot at the No. 43 car, giving the team a bit of diversity and testing a rookie driver who would like to move to the sport’s top division sooner rather than later. But the only suitable situation for Wallace to get the gig is if Almirola only sits out a few races, just like Erik Jones taking over the No. 18 car when Kyle Busch was injured in 2015.
At the time of publication, no announcement has been made about Almirola’s status.
11 races through in the 2016 season, he had a 22.64 average finish. But this year, Almirola and his No. 43 ride have consistently been finishing in the top 20, earning an average finish of 17.3 after Kansas Speedway, a sizable turnaround for an organization that just began building its on chassis’ last year.
Richard Petty Motorsports earned only two top-1o finishes last year between Almirola and Brian Scott, who retired at the end of the season. This year, however, Almirola has a pair of top fives and three top 10s as Blickensderfer is settling in.
Q: After Ryan Blaney’s impressive run at Kansas Speedway, what is he missing to get into Victory Lane? – George B., Fort Worth, Texas
A: Ryan Blaney is a unique racer. He’s aggressive on the track, showing he’s not afraid to bump into his opponents. He also sends people flowers after he gets into them, so at least he has a nice side to him.
The 23-year-old is consistently running up front, but is simultaneously ending races in the garage area with a beat up racecar. Instead of finishing in the top 10, he had a three-race streak featuring finishes of 33rd or worse.
But with a pair of top fives and 233 laps led this season, the improvement is quite noticeable for Wood Brothers Racing, one of the most legendary teams in NASCAR history.
“It’s some of the small things, like what can I personally do better on the driving side and communication side?” Blaney asked rhetorically. “I need to [look at how] I can drive these cars differently to maximize performance and understanding the cars as far as adjustments as far races go.
“Personnel wise, we have most of the same personnel from last year with a couple of changes. There are just little things that make a big difference in this sport, and they can win you and lose you races. Those things have really boosted our team to running up front every week.”
As Blaney continues to improve, over-driving his racecar will be the biggest factor in preventing him from pulling his No. 21 car into Victory Lane. Plenty of young drivers are known for having speed, but many often fail in NASCAR due to aggression. If Blaney can continue transferring his aggression into raw speed, it won’t be long until the red and white colors of the Wood Brothers lead the field to the checkered flag.