Driver Change at Richard Petty Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series

By Joseph Wolkin
Michael Hickey-USA TODAY Sports

Major injuries in NASCAR don’t happen too frequently. The last major injury was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion and before that, Eric McClure’s concussion, but the worst of all was a career ending injury to Jerry Nadeau in 2003. Now another driver is hurt and it isn’t too pretty.

Michael Annett, driver of the No. 43 Ford Mustang for Richard Petty Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, won’t be able to race at the Phoenix International Raceway this weekend due to injuries sustained during a crash during the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona on Saturday. Annett wrecked when he slid up into Austin Dillon while tandem drafting with Elliott Sadler and was the victim of several hard hits throughout the multi-car wreck. He was airlifted to the Halifax Medical Center where he had several tests completed to make sure the injuries were not life-threatening.

Richard Petty Motorsports sent out a statement saying that Annett has suffered from a fractured as well as dislocated sternum (the T-shaped bone in between the rib-cage) and is undergoing surgery in Charlotte. Annett also made a statement on Facebook, where he wrote “Well not where I wanted to be spending my Tues night but I’ve got my GONGSHOW hat on and it’s time to get this fixed so that I can get back in the 43 as soon as possible. Thanks for all the support!” The statement went along with a picture of himself in a gown on a hospital bed.

It’s going to be a long road for the Richard Petty Motorsports team. Their NASCAR Nationwide Series program was put together just weeks before the 2012 season began and selected Annett as the driver. They also run two full-time cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, who pilots the flagship No. 43 Ford. The team has chosen Almirola to replace Annett for at least this weekend as they continue to evaluate their options.

Almirola’s Nationwide Series career includes a total of 73 starts with a win and 28 top-1o finishes. It’s been a while since he’s been in a Nationwide Series vehicle and he hasn’t driven the new car yet either. Annett should be out for a few weeks due to the surgery. He may return within a month or it could be even longer. Hopefully, it will be less as Richard Petty Motorsports will likely not want to hire a driver outside of their organization to drive the famous No. 43, which could create speculation that they’ll be replacing Annett permanently in the vehicle.

Remember, Annett brought along Pilot and Flying-J as the team’s sponsors, which means they probably control part of the decisions for who they want behind the wheel of the car. Richard Petty Motorsports’ only hope for a championship in the NASCAR Nationwide Series now is the owners title. Annett was likely to be a top-five or top-10 contender for the championship and can still have a great year once he returns.

Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.

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