Aric Almirola out at least eight to 12 weeks with back injury

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CONCORD, N.C. — Aric Almirola could miss eight to 12 weeks recovering from the T5 compression fracture he suffered last Saturday in a crash at Kansas Speedway and will race when he is cleared by his doctors.

Regan Smith is substituting for Almirola in the No. 43 Ford this weekend in the Monster Energy Open. Richard Petty Motorsports did not announce Friday who will drive the No. 43 after this weekend.

“I’m not happy about that,” Almirola said of his time out of the car. “If I get back in the race car two weeks too soon, it’s just going to add two more starts in that column in the stat book. If I were to get in another similar accident and not be properly healed, you’re talking about potentially being paralyzed from the belly button down. I’m not going to risk that, I’ve got a lot of baseball to play with my son and I’d like to dance with my daughter someday at her wedding.”

RPM CEO Brian Moffitt said the team is still working with its partners to establish will drive the No. 43 following the weekend.

Next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 will be the first Cup points race Almirola has not started since the October 2010 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Almirola suffered his injury in a high-speed collision with the cars of Joey Logano and Danica Patrick during last weekend’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway. The race was stopped for nearly 28 minutes so Almirola could be safely removed from the car and transported to a nearby hospital for observation. He was released the next morning.

“As far as the pain, it’s pretty bad,” Almirola said. Who described his pain level at “9.5” right after the wreck. Almirola said he hadn’t taken pain medication in 48 hours. He joked it was in order to “not look drunk” for the press conference.

Almirola said he does not know which part of the accident caused his injury.

After reviewing the wreck, Almirola said he was two seconds behind it when it began.

“In race car racer terms, that is a long way,” Almirola said, who had committed to the highest lane on the track right as the wreck began.

He braked and turned left to avoid it, got loose and ran through fluids from the wreck, which prevented him from slowing down.

“From that point, I felt I was on railroad tracks,” Almirola said. “There was nothing I could do, I was on ice.”

When he impacted Logano’s car, Almirola instantly felt pain, describing it as being stabbed by a knife. When the No. 43 landed back on all four tires, Almirola described the pain as if the knife was being “twisted up in my back.”

Almirola believes if Logano’s car had been three feet lower on the track, he would have hit him in the door and Lognao would have been “seriously injured.”

On Thursday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Almirola told him the springs in Almirola’s car were not in place when his car landed back on the track, making the impact harder.

“The springs didn’t actually fall out of the car and disappear, I think they came out of the spring bucket,” Almirola said. “When the car came back to the garage, the springs were not upright in the spring buckets. I’m not 100 percent sure and NASCAR has reviewed the video, the R&D center has and there’s nothing showing the springs physically held up the car upon impact with Joey’s car. When the came back down it violently hit on the left-side frame rail and the left side jack post. The R&D center shows that as well.”

Almirola said the energy from the impact of the six to seven-foot drop sent the energy into his back.

Almirola said safety teams did a “great job” in extracting him from his car, which required cutting off the top of the vehicle.

“They were very cautious and very careful,” Almirola said. “My dad is a fire fighter, so I’ve always grown up with someone of that mentality and understanding he is a fire fighter. I know the spine is nothing to mess around with. So if you have neck pain in an accident or back pain it’s extremely important to make sure you keep the spine stable. I knew right away I had a severe amount of back pain. An unbelievable amount.”

Almirola noted that he put down his window net as soon as the wreck was over. That was a result of seeing the fire coming from Patrick’s car and the pain in his back.

“I thought I was on fire,” Almirola said. “So I was panicking a little bit trying to get my window net down and steering wheel off to get out of the car. I got my window net down just based on pure adrenaline. I got my steering wheel off and when I went to throw my steering wheel off the dash and I extended arms out in front of me, that intensified the pain even more and it kind of took my breath away.”

Once he realized his car was not on fire, he waited for the safety crews to arrive.

During the week there was much talk about the publication and usage of photos showing Almirola being removed from the car in a neck brace.

The driver said he was “pretty pissed off” about the use of the pictures.

“I think that is extremely unprofessional,” Almirola said. “They have no medical expertise whatsoever. They had no idea what was wrong with me. They didn’t know if I was bleeding to death, they didn’t know if I was paralyzed. They didn’t know anything. But they used it as an opportunity to go and snap some pictures of me. They were literally three feet from the accident, hanging through the catchfence with their shutters running wide open the entire time. I’m pretty upset about that.

“I feel like it’s wrong. I have a wife and two kids who are sitting at home who have no real idea what’s going on. … They’re finding out more through looking at images online or during the race broadcast than our PR department or people at the race track getting back to them and I think that’s wrong. I was obviously in a very vulnerable situation and I’m disappointed to say the least.”

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Ford chooses Sebastien Bourdais replacement for Le Mans (and it isn’t Tony Stewart . . . yet)

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Ford has chosen a replacement for injured Sebastien Bourdais at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to announce the driver soon – but don’t hold your breath NASCAR fans.

It isn’t Tony Stewart, who has indicated his desire to run the renowned event.

While taping an upcoming episode Thursday of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said the three-time champion, who retired from NASCAR’s premier series last year, still is lobbying “every time he sees us” to race a Ford GT car.

“We love Tony, and he wants to get behind the wheel of that GT but not at LeMans” in 2017, Pericak told NBC Sports at the Ford Performance Technical Center.

However, the new co-driver will be relatively inexperienced on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe road course in France. Pericak said Ford’s high-tech simulator (which mainly is used for NASCAR but also is used for sports cars and street models) at its North Carolina facility would help prepare the replacement.

“We will be using the simulator heavily between now and then for that driver to become fully up to speed not only in the GT but at Le Mans,” Pericak said. “There’s a great example of where we’re going to get tons of hours behind the wheel before that driver gets on an airplane and heads over the France.

“The realism is unbelievable. It’s a fantastic tool to have with this situation. Otherwise, you pick a driver, send him to Le Mans and take your chances. We’re going to be much more prepared. We already have the simulator ready to run that track because we ran it all last year.”

Returning to France last year, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Chip Ganassi Racing GT driven by Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.

Bourdais, who suffered pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an Indianapolis 500 qualifying crash last Saturday, was released from an Indianapolis hospital Thursday.

“Thank God, he’s going to be OK,” Pericak said. “We’ve talked to him, he’s in good spirits, but we’re really pleased he’s going to make a full recovery.”

Pericak said an announcement of Bourdais’ replacement was likely Thursday or Friday.

NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)