With Aric Almirola recovering from injuries suffered in Saturday's fiery crash at Kansas Speedway, Richard Petty Motorsports on Wednesday named Regan Smith as a substitute driver for the No. 43 Ford during NASCAR's All-Star weekend.
Smith will race in Almirola's stead in Saturday night’s Monster Energy Open, an exhibition qualifier for the All-Star race on Sunday.
The No. 43 team can qualify for the main event by winning either one of the event’s three stages.
Almirola is out indefinitely with a compression fracture of the T5 vertebra in his back, sustained in the crash involving Danica Patrick and Joey Logano on Lap 199 of the 267-lap Go Bowling 400 at Kansas. Almirola had to be cut out of his car and was airlifted Saturday night to University of Kansas Medical Center.
The 33-year-old driver, in his sixth full season in the series, was released from the hospital Sunday and returned home to North Carolina.
Almirola is 23rd in the NASCAR Cup standings, 62 points outside the 16-driver cutoff to qualify for the playoffs. There are 17 races remaining in the regular season, which will resume May 28 with the Coca-Cola 600. It's too early to tell whether Smith would again fill in should Almirola be unfit to race.
If Almirola misses a regular-season race he would need to receive a waiver from NASCAR to remain eligible for the postseason.
The widely popular Carl Edwards, who retired from racing last year, turned down an inivation from the Petty team to serve as Almirola's replacement driver.
Almirola is scheduled to meet with media Friday morning for an update on his prognosis.