Billy Johnson to drive No. 43 car at Sonoma

Billy Johnson (L) has run five Xfinity Series races. (Getty)

So much for any thought that Darrell Wallace would be the sole driver of the No. 43 until Aric Almirola returns.

Richard Petty Motorsports announced Monday that Billy Johnson would pilot the No. 43 at Sonoma on Sunday. Johnson, who primarily drives sports cars, has much more road racing experience than Wallace does.

“It is going to be awesome. It will be my first NASCAR Cup race and to debut in the 43 car, one of the most iconic numbers to ever race in NASCAR, is a huge honor,” Johnson said in a statement. “Richard Petty Motorsports is a great organization. To have the chance to make my Cup debut for the King is surreal, and I appreciate them putting me in the car.

“I have run a lot of Xfinity races, but this will be my first Cup race. It is awesome that RPM and everyone at Ford Performance has the confidence in me to take on Sonoma. I have run pretty well in the Xfinity road course races I have done, so I hope that translates into a good showing this weekend.”

The No. 43 has needed a substitute driver ever since Almirola fractured a vertebra in a vicious crash at Kansas.

When RPM announced that Wallace would be driving for the team before the Pocono race, it said he would do so “while Aric Almirola recovers from his injuries.” In becoming Almirola’s substitute driver after Regan Smith ran three races for the team, Wallace was the first black driver to compete in a Cup Series race since 2006.

In five Xfinity Series starts — all on road courses — Johnson’s highest finish is eighth. He hasn’t run an Xfinity race since 2013. Wallace has made six career Xfinity Series starts on road courses and has three top-10 finishes.

Johnson was also famously slapped in the helmet by Max Papis after the Xfinity Series race at Road America in 2013.

Johnson ran the 24 Hours of Le Mans over the past weekend and finished 28th while driving with Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla for Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT team.

“It’s been important for us to put ourselves in the most competitive spot while Aric is recovering,” RPM CEO Brian Moffitt said in a statement. “We’ve worked with Ford and Smithfield to put the best driver available in the car each week. Both Regan and Bubba have done a great job for us the last five weeks. We feel that Billy’s experience on a road course will help us be competitive this weekend.”

The team said Wallace will return to the car at Daytona.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!