Aric Almirola will make his return to NASCAR Nationwide Series competition for the first time since competing full-time in 2011 when he finished fourth in the point standings. Almirola will substitute for Michael Annett, who was injured in a crash at Daytona International Speedway, in the No. 43 Flying J Ford at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway.
Richard Petty Motorsports announced late this afternoon that after a successful surgery to repair a fractured and dislocated sternum, NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett has been released from the hospital in Charlotte, N.C. and is now resting at his home. Doctors expect a two month recovery time, but Annett has responded quickly to all treatment so far and is hopeful to return sooner.
"This is never a situation that you want to have. The most important thing is for Michael to get better and get back in the No. 43 Flying J Ford," stated driver Aric Almirola. "I'm happy to step in for him this weekend as he recovers. This will make a busy weekend for me, but I am excited for the added track time. I really like Phoenix and have found some success in both Cup and Nationwide there."
The Dollar General 200 will mark Almirola's sixth Nationwide start at the one-mile track. The Tampa, Fla., native previously earned a pole award (2011) and a sixth-place finish (2010) at the Phoenix, Ariz., track.
"This will be the first race for Flying J to have primary placement on the car, so I hope we can bring home a top-five finish for them and for Michael," Almirola added. "The 43 team is still competing for the Owner's Championship, so I'd love to help make them and Michael proud."
The team is 100% behind Michael Annett in his recovery, but is hoping that Almirola will help them through this trying time.
"It's an unfortunate situation to have Michael hurt, especially with the high hopes we had for this season. But, this is just a bump in the road. We will focus on the Owners Championship this season and getting Michael back in the car," stated Crew Chief Philippe Lopez. "We finished in the top-10 both races last season and have a brand new car we are running this weekend. I think our car will be competitive, and Aric will do a good job wheeling it. Our short track program was really good last year; we didn't finish outside the top-15, so that should continue this season."
The No. 43 team has prepared chassis No. 743 for Phoenix. This is a new chassis the team built in the off-season.
Fans can catch the Dollar General 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, March 2 at 4:30 p.m. ET. The race will be broadcast on ESPN2 and MRN/SiriusXM 90. Qualifying for the event will be held on Saturday, March 2 at 1:05 p.m. ET, and can be viewed on SPEED.
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