What Drivers Said after All-Star Race

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Kyle Busch earned his first All-Star win Saturday night. He and others in the race had much to say about the event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

KYLE BUSCH — Winner: “It’s the All-Star Race for one and for two, we’ve never won at Charlotte in a Cup car so we finally achieved that goal tonight and won the All-Star race and won a million bucks, so there’s reason to celebrate and to celebrate big. Can’t say enough about Adam Stevens (crew chief). You have Adam Stevens and these guys in the pit box and you can rely on them all day long. I had to do that tonight. You know we weren’t quite the fastest car, but we made the right changes when it mattered most. We made the right moves when it mattered most and we got the most out of our night tonight and got here to victory lane. Feel so relieved, alluded, proud and excited all in the same time.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “My pit crew has been awesome all year and I don’t want to take anything away from them. We came down pit road the leader and three people passed us, that was pretty much the difference there. But, in 10 laps, track position is huge. We just didn’t have it there at the end. We had the best car out there, for sure. In traffic I thought it was really good. I thought we had it most of the race but that’s how racing goes. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But I think we had a really fast car today. We’ll go onto the 600, that’s a long race, and try it again.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 3rd: “When you’re the second-place car, you can’t jump the leader. But everybody in the second, third, and fourth row is going to jump and do what they can to roll-up on the situation. So, I was really hopeful of old tires and being on the bottom. They’d be able to hold that lane back, especially Kyle (Busch) and how good he is on race starts. And it just didn’t happen. He got in there. I had a decent start. They weren’t able to push me and get me going. And I had a couple of shots at him. He wasn’t handling too well at the start of the run, but I just drove too hard.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 4th: “You’ve got to do something special in the Monster Energy All-Star Race. We did everything at an A-minus tonight. The pit stops were good. The car was good. The restarts were good. The calls and adjustments were good. Nothing stood out as excellent.  I love the format.  Monster did a great job with this traditional format. Having the option tire I thought was really neat for the crews to use and everybody used them before that last round, how about that.” 

Jamie McMurray – Finished 5th: “The racing was great. The restarts were awesome. It’s interesting how the tire strategy worked out where no one had the greens at the end because track position was so important. I got us behind with missing my pit stall on our qualifying because our car was probably a little bit better than where we finished.  But, pretty pumped for next week. I thought we were the best car on the long run, even though you only had 20 laps tonight, but next week we will have lots of that. So, yeah, I’m really excited.” 

Kevin Harvick – Finished 6th: “We just didn’t put it together there when we came down pit road. We got behind and at that point you don’t have enough laps to make it up.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 7th: “I was happy we made that last round. I guess I was the only car of the open guys to make it to the last round, so that was kind of cool. Just hard to start in the back and expect to move that far forward. Had a good car, though, I was happy about that.  Hopefully, we can take some of that toward next week.” 

Joey Logano – Finished 8th: “We had to just shoot for the fence doing anything we can do to try to make our Shell/Pennzoil Ford a little faster. It was just slow. There are no better words for it. I feel like we kind of got screwed up as soon as practice started and we had issues with our brakes. We had a bad qualifying effort because of that, which set us towards the back. We didn’t practice our car either, and we couldn’t make it any better and it showed in the race. We weren’t very quick at all and we couldn’t pass cars and couldn’t move around the race track. We’ve got a little bit of work to do for next week.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 11th: “You can’t pass anywhere.  It’s not great track conditions, to be honest with you. We had to try something to get our average up or try to win a stage and that’s what we tried.” 

Clint Bowyer – Finished 13th: “It was a good try. Track position is key and you try to do something to get track position and you don’t have the upper hand. They’re better than you on that deal. I think if we would have had tires and started up front, we’d have been hard to handle tonight. We were a good car all night long, it’s just this format and the way the race is. You can’t complain about it because it is what it is. It’s the All-Star Race and everybody wants to be a part of it, it’s just unfortunate that your hands are tied.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 20th: “It’s pretty disappointing. I thought like tonight, even though we only ran 20 laps, our performance was better. As we made a couple of passes I thought we were keeping pretty good speed, beating everybody except for the leader right there. It was encouraging. I felt like we were going to run better but it’s just kind of the way the year’s going. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Just got to ride it out until it turns.”

Staff picks for All-Star Race

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win tonight’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Busch. The Charlotte homestand already is off to a great start for the truck race winner who will start second tonight.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. He won last weekend at Kansas and keeps the streak going.

Daniel McFadin

Kurt Busch started Monster Energy’s tenure as the Cup Series title sponsor by winning the Daytona 500. He wins the first Monster Energy sponsored All-Star Race for his second win in the event.

Jerry Bonkowski

Joey Logano won last year’s All-Star Race. Saturday night, Brad Keselowski keeps the trophy in the Team Penske trophy case with his first all-star win.

Tonight’s All-Star Race at Charlotte: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
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Jimmie Johnson seeks to extend his record of wins to five in the All-Star Race tonight, while a number of drivers, including pole-sitter Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, seek their first win in this event.

Here are the particulars for the race:

(All times are ET)

START: Triple Crown winning jockey Victor Espinoza will give the command for drivers to start engines at 8:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 70 laps in four segments around the 1.5-mile track.

SEGMENTS: First segment is 20 laps. Second segment is 20 laps. Third segment is 20 laps. Final segment is 10 laps.

ALL-STAR RACE SPECIAL RULES: 

  • The field will be trimmed to 10 cars for the final 10-lap segment. The winner receives $1 million.
  • The winner of each of the first three stages will lock up a spot in the final stage provided they remain on the lead lap after the third stage.
  • The cars with the best average finish in the first three stages will make up the remaining spots in the 10-car final stage.
  • Those 10 cars will be lined up by average finish of the first three stages and given the option to pit. Exit off pit road determines the starting order for the final stage.
  • Each team will have one set of option tires to use at their discretion. Teams that choose to put on these tires to start the final stage must start behind those that choose to start that stage on regular tires.
  • Only green-flag laps count in the final 10-lap segment.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 1 p.m. The drivers meeting is at 2:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7:38 p.m.

MONSTER ENERGY OPEN:

  • Command to start engines at 6:07 p.m.
  • Green flag scheduled for 6:15 p.m.
  • Race features three stages: The first stage is 20 laps. The second stage is 20 laps. The final stage is 10 laps.
  • Winner of each stage advances to All-Star Race
  • Final spot to All-Star Race goes to fan vote winner.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Calysta Bevier will perform the Anthem at 8:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. with its coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com. MRN’s coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 83 degrees at race time with a 2 percent chance of rain.

LAST YEAR: Joey Logano passed Kyle Larson with two laps to go to win last year’s race. Brad Keselowski finished second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for All-Star starting lineup

Long: Aric Almirola’s greatest pain is not fulfilling his children’s wishes

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CONCORD, N.C. — The pain in Aric Almirola’s back is nothing like the pain in his heart.

When he gingerly exited an airplane Sunday, a day after fracturing his T5 vertebrae at Kansas Speedway, he was greeted by his children. Four-year-old son Alex and 3-year-old daughter Abby wanted to hug their father.

“I couldn’t,’’ Almirola said in a soft voice.

They wanted him to pick them up.

“I couldn’t.’’

Hugs and lifts will be limited for while. Almirola is expected to need eight to 12 weeks to recover from the back injury he suffered last weekend. His car pounded Joey Logano’s Ford, sending the rear of Almirola’s Ford up about 6 feet before crashing back to the track.

Almirola moved haltingly Friday, sitting still as he talked because of the “excruicatingly painful’’ injury.

“There’s no way to relieve it,’’ Almirola said. “There’s no comfort. If I sit for too long, it hurts. If I stand up, it feels better for a few minutes and then it starts to hurt. If I lay down, it feels better for a few minutes and then it starts to hurt.

“I can’t really lay on my back because it puts pressure on my spine. I can’t lay for too long on my side because then my spine sags and it puts pressure on it. There’s just a constant ache.’’

For someone whose focus as a child was to be a racer — “racing was Plan A, Plan B and Plan C,’’ he said — sitting out of the car for so long will be difficult. But it won’t be as hard for the 33-year-old as it is for his two children.

They don’t understand daddy is hurt.

“I don’t have a Band-Aid on it. I don’t have blood or a scab, so visually they don’t understand I’ve got a broken bone in my back,’’ Almirola told NBC Sports.

Almirola said he felt a stabbing pain in his back when his car struck Logano’s and the pain intensified when the rear of Almirola’s car slammed the ground.

He felt such a burning sensation that he thought his back was on fire. That’s why he lowered the window net of his car. He wasn’t trying to signal that he was OK, he was trying to get out.

Almriola removed his steering wheel. When he threw it on top of the dash and extended his hands, the pain “took my breath away.’’

He soon saw that he wasn’t on the fire. The son of firefighter, he knew that with his back pain it was important to keep the spine stable. Safety officials cut him out of the car.

William Heisel, director of OrthoCarolina Motorsports, which is treating Almirola, said the driver’s injuries are worse than the compression fracture Denny Hamlin suffered in 2013 in a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway.

Heisel also said that Almirola’s injury has “outstanding healing potential.’’

The key is to be patient, Hamlin said. He missed four races because of his injury.

“After about two weeks I felt relatively normal,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports. “There were certain positions in which I would sit that I would feel it and I knew that it wasn’t right, but I was aching to get in the car as quick as I could. I maybe rushed it a bit, but I feel like we waited until it was safe.

“That’s the frustrating part. Drivers don’t mind not getting in a car when they’re not feeling well, it’s when you feel fine that it hurts.’’

Almirola said he’ll wait as long as doctors want him to before climbing back into the car.

While he recovers, his kids will keep him company. And take care of him.

When daddy needs a water, Abby dutifully runs to the kitchen to retrieve a bottle. When daddy needs fresh ice packs for his back, Alex goes to the freezer to get those.

“We’ve got a pretty good system,’’ Almirola said. “They’re taking pretty good care of me.’’

But they are kids and it’s tough on them that daddy is hurt.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time on the couch,’’ Almirola said. “About our most quality time we’ve had over the last week is sitting on the couch and watching TV. They snuggle up next to me.’’

Those are special moments for Almirola.

“They have a way of making you feeling better for sure when they crawl up on the couch, show you they love you and care about you,’’ he said. “That lasts about five minutes and they’re ready to run around. Alex wants me to get down on the ground and play cars with him. Abby wants me to walk her baby stroller with her, chase them around the house or go out to the front yard and watch them ride their bikes.’’

But each time, his response is the same to them.

“Can’t do that.’’

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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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