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Billy Johnson to Race 43 car at Sonoma

Aric Almirola suffered a T5 vertebrae compression fracture after a vicious wreck in Saturday's GoBoeling 400 at Kansas Speedway NASCARMedia

NASCAR

Richard Petty Motorsports announced on Monday that Billy Johnson will drive the 43 car this weekend at Sonoma. Johnson, a road course racing ace from California who has competed in multiple NASCAR road course races before.

Since Aric Almirola’s injury at Kansas Speedway in May, the 43 car has been driven by either Regan Smith or Darrell Wallace Jr. Smith piloted the iconic ride for the All-Star Race and the Coke 600 at Charlotte. Wallace made his Cup debut in the 43 at Pocono, and also drove it at Michigan this past weekend.

RPM’s decision to put a road course “ringer” in the car this weekend seems logistical. This appears to be their best option for this weekend, as Wallace has zero experience at Sonoma. In addition, Wallace has very few starts on road courses. Meanwhile, Johnson has a detailed road course racing history, including 4 Xfinity Series road course starts.

This past week, Johnson was competing in the famed 24 Hours of Les Mans for Chip Ganassi’s Ford team. He has competed in this world-renowned racing event for the past 2 years, as well as made recent starts in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series.

This weekend’s Toyota SaveMart 350 from Sonoma Raceway will mark Billy Johnson’s Cup Series debut. Johnson will be the third substitute driver to race the 43. He will also be the 12th driver since Richard Petty’s retirement in 1992 to drive his iconic car. In Almirola’s absence, the 43 car has yet to finish any higher than 19th.

Almirola released an update this past week on his condition. He stated that his time away (an estimated 8-12 weeks) may be as short as 8 weeks. This means he would be making his return at either Kentucky or Indianapolis in July. While Johnson may not be a strong contender for the win this weekend, he is a prime candidate to fill the seat for Aric Almirola at the difficult road course in Sonoma.

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