When Michael Annett's surgeon first saw the X-ray of the broken sternum the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver had suffered in a crash at Daytona International Speedway, he told his new patient the recovery time would be two to three months. Being a racer hoping for the quickest return possible, Annett heard only the first of those numbers.
"I think in his head," Annett admitted Monday, "he was thinking three."
Which is why it may now be Memorial Day weekend before the Richard Petty Motorsports driver returns from an injury that has sidetracked his 2013 season. Annett's breastbone was fractured and dislocated in a head-on impact with the wall late in the Nationwide season opener at Daytona, and he had surgery the following week in which screws and a metal plate were used to repair the damage.
Annett had originally hoped to be back in his No. 43 car this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, but that won't be the case. He said a scan last week revealed that the bones and plates at the injury site aren't fusing together as quickly as doctors had hoped, and his surgeon wasn't comfortable with the idea of him withstanding another big hit.
"Physically, I still felt like I could have gotten in the car at Richmond, still feel like I can get in at Talladega," Annett said. "He's not worrying about me physically being able to do it. It's just in case something goes wrong, if the plates and everything he's put in there aren't willing to withstand a hard hit like that. It's not so much keeping me out, because I can do it. It's in case something goes bad, it hasn't grown back enough to where it would be able to hold that."
Much like NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin, who is out with a compression fracture in a lower back vertebra, Annett held some hope of returning from his injury earlier than expected at Richmond. Toward that end, he had a scan originally slated for this week moved up to last Monday, when he was told he'd actually have to be out longer than he first hoped. Although he hasn't ruled out being back next week at Darlington Raceway, a more realistic target appears to be May 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which follows an off week for the series.
Annett seems confident of that return date. "Anything can happen. Freak things can happen," he said. "But as far as I see it, there's no doubt in my mind that physically and internally, it will be ready to go. You never know the unknown, but I don't really see anything keeping us out of the car beyond Charlotte."
Being out of the car hasn't been the only difficult part of the recovery process for the 26-year-old Iowa native. Since his surgery in late February, Annett has been under doctor's orders to not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. When he flew to Texas earlier this month to watch his race team compete, he had to have someone lift his suitcase in and out of the car, and lug it on and off the airplane. The former hockey player can see the atrophy in his pectoral muscles each time he looks in the mirror.
"Obviously, not being able to race was the worst part," he said. "But I love bowling, I love golfing, love doing a bunch of stuff outside. And that's just been real limited right now."
Annett said he is scheduled to start physical therapy this week, which will involve weight training exercises like the bench press designed to rebuild strength in his chest. Meanwhile he continues to keep a close eye on his race team, which this past Friday night at Richmond recorded its best result of the season after substitute Reed Sorenson finished 10th. Sorenson, a close friend of Annett's, will stay in the car until the regular driver returns.
"It's definitely been tough, because you feel like you're not included," Annett said. "But being back at the race track has been a huge help. ? This past weekend at Richmond, watching Reed run in the top five for most of the race was a lot of fun. But it was also probably one of the tougher ones to watch, because when you know the car is handling that well and is as fast as it was, you definitely want to be in it. So it's tough, but people keep asking me, 'Don't you want to get back? How bad is this? Why don't you just push it and try it?' My answer to that is, I'd rather miss one or two more instead of missing 10 more if something happens. As tough as it is, I know ? there's a long season left."
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