Aric Almirola is scheduled to test at Charlotte Motor Speedway next Tuesday with a view to returning from injury in next weekend’s New Hampshire NASCAR Cup race.
Richard Petty Motorsports driver Almirola fracturered his T5 vertebra in a multi-car crash at Kansas Speedway on May 13.
“Aric is progressing well,” crew chief Drew Blickensderfer told Autosport.
“We think he will be OK for Loudon. A NASCAR test at Charlotte to confirm whether he is OK is happening this week.
“If everything goes good and there’s no pain, then Aric should be in the car at Loudon. “But there’s still a little unknown until he straps in the car and hits the banking.”
Blickensderfer plans to run Almirola for a few laps initially to make sure he is comfortable in the car.
If he is at ease, the team will up the laps to 30 — two-thirds of a fuel run — then check his condition again, as well as simulating pitstops to assess if heavy braking into pitlane or the drop off the jacks cause him any discomfort.
“Probably three weeks ago when Aric was coming around, I knew he was ready to get in the race car,” Blickensderfer said.
“You could just tell. The way he moved, the way he acted, it was Aric Almirola pre-injury and he looked like he was good to go.
“But you never know until you hit the banking at 180mph.
“That’s something you can’t simulate without doing the real thing.”
Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr took over from Regan Smith as Almirola’s stand-in three races ago and took a best-yet 15th at Daytona last week.
“Bubba has been great,” Blickensderfer said.
“He’s got speed. He drives well. He gets along with everybody on the team.
“The kid is competitive and when he gets out of the race car, he’s completely productive in the way he wants to treat myself and everybody on the team to try and get better.
“Bubba is one of those guys that maybe needed to have more horsepower and less downforce to perform at his highest.
“We didn’t see Jimmie Johnson’s potential until he got to Cup. And I think Bubba might be one of those guys that when you give him horsepower and less downforce he can perform at a higher level than some.”