Andrew Murstein was having a pretty good sports day this past Saturday.
Up first, the co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports was watching his 9th-grade son Matt playing with 12 graders in an AAU basketball game that was tied with five seconds left. The young man took the inbounds pass, faked left and went right.
Then came an impersonation of basketball Hall of Famer George “The Ice Man Gervin”
“He finger rolls a shot in at the buzzer and they win by two.”
The proud papa’s day was not done yet.
From there, Murstein went home to watch the New York Lizards, the Major League Lacrosse team that he also owns, take on Atlanta. In that game, Paul Rabil, considered to be the best lacrosse player on the planet, scores five goals in a 14-12 victory.
“The Lizards win and now I’m going for the trifecta,” said Murstein who would then switch over to watch the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway.
What he saw was a crash involving Joey Logano and Danica Patrick with Aric Almirola, driving RPM’s No. 43 car, coming up right behind it.
“I’m hoping he steers clear but no,” said Murstein.
Almirola is injured in the crash and has to be removed from the car only after the top of the vehicle is cut off. The veteran driver suffered a compression fracture to his T5 vertebra and was released from a hospital on Sunday.
So much for the perfect sports night that Murstein was having. The crash put everything into perspective.
“Just like that, sports can change not only your night but your driver’s life,” said Murstein. “When the window comes down I think everything is fine. But then he’s not getting out. Moments later he’s lying flat on a stretcher. Such is the life of a pro athlete. Except in this sport, life can be taken away in the blink of an eye.”
A few hours after the crash, Murstein gets a call from “The King” Richard Petty who told him that Almirola was going to be ok. What also happened during a period of time after the crash was that Murstein’s phone started to blow up with people calling to see how Almirola was doing.
Many of those calls are also available NASCAR drivers who were inquiring about the possibility of filling in for Almirola and driving the No. 43 car.
“At first I feel bad that they are asking,” said Murstein. “I mean he’s just gone through a major accident and drivers are seeing if that’s an opportunity for them.”
Murstein informed the inquisitive drivers that he’s not going to make any decision until he finds out how long Almirola is going to be out. He was hoping it would only be for a week, but the next day he finds out it’s going to be at least a month.
So RPM has announced that they are going to with Regan Smith this weekend in at the Monster Energy Open in Charlotte.
“Hate the circumstances surrounding it, but I’m looking forward to being in the @RPMotorsports #43 and very much appreciate the opportunity,” tweeted Smith on Wednesday. “@aric_almirola is a friend and a great competitor, we will work hard this weekend to do him, his sponsors and @RPMotorsports proud.”
In the midst of what was a super sports Saturday for Murstein until the crash, he never dreamed that he was going to have to think about anybody else driving the #43 car this week and for the foreseeable future. But with the reality being that Almirola was going to need time to heal, a decision had to be made.
“Finding a replacement is not easy,” said Murstein. “There are many things to juggle. Who does the sponsor want? Who does the manufacturer want? Who has the necessary experience on just a few days’ notice to get behind the wheel of a machine going 200 mph? There were many qualified people that we spoke to, but at the end of the day Regan Smith is our man.”
Being a substitute driver is nothing new for the 33-year-old Smith. In 2012, he was the fill-in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. who missed two races with a concussion. Earnhardt spent some time with Almirola Wednesday at an event for the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation.
“Seeing @aric_almirola tonight was awesome,” tweeted Earnhardt on Wednesday. “He’s a lucky dude. @ReganSmith will do a fantastic job subbing for him till he’s well.”
In 2014, Smith took the place of Tony Stewart for one race the day after Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt track race. Then in 2015, he filled in for Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch.
Nobody wants Smith to succeed more than Andrew Murstein. But while the RPM co-owner is doing everything he can to bring the race team back to prosperity, his primary thoughts are with Almirola who very easily could have been injured worse in what was a very scary wreck.
“Immediately your heart goes out to him and his family,” said Murstein when thinking back to the events of last Saturday.
But the NASCAR schedule continues and Richard Petty Motorsports is moving forward with Regan Smith as it’s driver while Aric Almirola is on the mend. Sports can serve an escape for many people but think about what Andrew Murstein went through last Saturday.
He experienced the joy of watching his son be the hero on the basketball court and his lacrosse team coming up with a big win. But he also held his breath watching the driver of his NASCAR team get injured in a crash. Life is so precious and when you compare it to sports, it certainly makes you think about think about what’s really important.