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.”