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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Brad Keselowski wins Xfinity pole at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski will start first in today’s Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway after claiming his first pole since November 2016 at Texas.

The Team Penske driver posted a top speed of 184.382 mph. It’s his 21st career pole and the first pole for Keselowski and Penske at the track.

Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Cole Custer. It his Custer’s third front row start this season.

The top five is completed by Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Brandon Jones.

It’s Reddick’s best qualifying effort of the season.

Kaz Grala, making the first series start for Fury Race Cars, qualified 16th. Though he competed in the first 10 races of the season with JGL Racing, FRC does not have any owner points and would have missed the race if qualifying had been rained out.

In his fifth start of the year, Timmy Hill will start 24th after advancing to the second round for the first time this season.

Ryan Reed did not make a qualifying attempt after his No. 16 Ford did not get through inspection in time. He will start from the rear.

The cars of Chad Finchum, Mike Harmon and Morgan Shepherd failed to qualify.

The Alsco 300 is set to begin at 1:13 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for qualifying results.

JGL Racing owner James Whitener diagnosed with liver failure

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CONCORD, N.C. – JGL Racing owner James Whitener was diagnosed with liver failure in January and is going on a transplant list to receive a new one, he confirmed in a statement to NBC Sports.

Whitener, 54, formed JGL Racing in 2014. Based in Denver, North Carolina, the team fields the No. 28 Ford driven by Dylan Lupton.

The team had fielded the No. 24 for Kaz Grala until earlier this month when Grala was let go.

Grala said Whitener’s medical costs played a part in the decision to shutter the team. The team originally stated the decision was due to lack of sponsorship.

“I found out kind of before the Dover race that things were looking a little bit shakey, unfortunately,” Grala said. “(Whitener) has some medical issues unfortunately. He didn’t really want to spend the money to continue running, which is understandable.”

Below is Whitener’s statement.

“What Kaz said is true that I have health issues. In fact, in January I found out that my liver is failing and I’m going on the transplant list for a new liver. It was not a decision to stop the No. 24 team with everyone just finding out after Dover – that was not the case at all. It had been discussed among the team really since Las Vegas. I really wish Kaz the best and hope I was instrumental in helping him start his Xfinity career. I watched him in the trucks last year and thought he would do well in our cars. All of my guys at JGL have helped me build this team and accomplish what we have up to this point and I thank all of them for their hard work and dedication in building both the No. 24 and No. 28 teams.”

“Since I couldn’t continue building both teams this year and helping young drivers as I have done in the past, I decided to give Kaz the three Roush cars along with parts and pieces to give him the opportunity to keep running and building on his career. Myself and everyone at JGL Racing wish him the best. Fury Racing has hired most of the employees from the 24 team that ran the first 10 races, so hopefully they can continue Kaz’s success with their program.  I would like to thank Kaz Grala and Dylan Lupton for being a part of the JGL Racing program.”

Through nine starts this season, Lupton is 29th in the point standings. His best finish is 17th at Texas Motor Speedway. Since 2014, JGL Racing has six top fives and 12 top 10s. Its best result is third in the July 2017 race at Daytona.

Today’s Xfinity race at Charlotte: Start time, lineup and more

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Ten races into the Xfinity season there have been 10 different winners. Will the streak continue today at Charlotte Motor Speedway?

The record for the most different winners to start a season in the Xfinity Series is 13 in 1988.

Here are all the details for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Dhani Jones, retired NFL player, author and host of CNBC’s Adventure Capitalists, will give the command to start engines at 1:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 6:30 a.m. Qualifying is at 10:10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 12:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The USO Show Troupe will perform the anthem at 1:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 12:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 84 degrees and 75 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Ryan Blaney won this race a year ago. Kevin Harvick was second. Austin Dillon was third. Alex Bowman won at Charlotte in October. Sam Hornish Jr. was second. Blaney was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Ryan Blaney to appear on NBC’s Taken tonight

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Ryan Blaney will guest star on the NBC show “Taken” at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

When a dangerous weapons dealer smuggles his wares into New York City, Bryan (Clive Standen) teams up with an FBI agent (Blaney) in a race to stop the weapons dealer before he reaches the safety of international waters.

“When I first read the script I didn’t know what to expect,” Blaney said. “But I was excited when I read it and then when we actually started to do the chase scene, it was really cool being behind the wheel of the car and working with Clive, who was in the passenger seat. To see his passion for all of this, and how much of a cool guy he is, he’s definitely a great actor and great to talk to as well. It’s been nice getting to know him.”

Blaney also said he appreciated what happened behind the scenes.

“Being out in the freezing weather in Toronto has been a humbling experience for sure,” he said. “I always like to see how other professions work, and honestly, the film and TV industry reminds me of the racing side, because a lot of people just see the finished product – they just see us going on the track, or they just see what’s on TV and they don’t realize how much work goes into making it. There’s a lot more work behind the scenes and it definitely opens your eyes as to how much work goes into just one scene, let alone a full episode.”