Aric Almirola has missed nearly two months after suffering a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra at Kansas Speedway in May, but he was recently cleared to test by medical personnel during a routine check-up.
Almirola is expected to participate in an on-track test in the next two weeks to see if he's ready to return. The NASCAR medical team has to clear Almirola's return before he can begin racing again.
Almirola won't race in this weekend's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, and the Tampa-raised driver told the Tampa Bay Times that it's "frustrating" to be a spectator. His lone Monster Energy Cup Series victory came at Daytona in 2014.
He also told the Times how fortunate he is to not be paralyzed after his accident.
"I didn't think I was paralyzed, because I could wiggle my toes and feel my feet," Almirola said. "But I was concerned. The pain was severe. As an athlete, as a competitor, as a car driver, you instantly start thinking, 'Wow, is this the end for me? Will I ever been able to race again?' There are so many unknowns when you haven't made it to the hospital yet."
Despite the accident, Almirola is ready to return to racing, and he hopes to race in the Brickyard 400 on Sunday, July 23.
Almirola might not be able to return that quickly, but he is ahead of schedule, so it's possibly he can return by then.
Several drivers have filled in for Almirola during his absence. Regan Smith filled in for two races, and road-course driver Billy Johnson took over the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports last week at Sonoma.
Bubba Wallace has made two starts for the team, and he will also make the start on Saturday for the Coke Zero 400.