NASCAR America: Aric Almirola battled back from physical and mental injury

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More than a year after suffering an injury that could have ended his time in the NASCAR Cup series, Aric Almirola is grateful that he had an opportunity to reassess his career and get back inside a race car.

“Breaking your back is not ideal,” Almirola told Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte on NASCAR America. “But for me, breaking my back was actually better than breaking a leg or an arm or something like that. Because I had a severe amount of pain for two to three weeks and then all of the sudden, most of the pain went away and I could actually resume normal everyday activity.

“I just couldn’t drive a racecar because my bone wasn’t healed enough and if I got into another accident that was similar, I could have compressed the vertebrae and while it was broken, it could have slid backward into my spinal cord and caused paralysis.”

Almirola came to the realization that the physical aspect of the injury was not nearly as bad as what he faced mentally. The injury could have been much worse if his vertebrae had shifted just a little more.

“I think the mental part was the most challenging,” Almirola said. “In the beginning, I was more focused on my injury and concerned by the fact that the doctor told me I was a quarter of an inch away from my vertebrae slipping back into my spinal cord.”

MORE: Kansas crash rekindled Aric Almirola’s love of racing

But his thoughts turned positive soon after he began to heal. The time spent away from the track allowed Almirola to contemplate what he wanted out of the rest of his life.

“On top of that, thinking about racing and do I really want to do this,” Almirola said. “Just going through that at the very beginning and thinking, maybe this is it. Maybe I take this as an opportunity to say, ‘I’m out.’

“Watching those races without me in it was killing me. And going to the shop and seeing the racecar load up and go to the racetrack and me not going to be a part of it was killing me. I knew right then and there that the fire wasn’t out. It almost reignited and rejuvenated my career.

“To have it taken away, makes you realize how fortunate and lucky you are to get to do what you do.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR docks Kyle Larson 20 points for rear window infraction

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NASCAR docked Kyle Larson’s team 20 driver and owner points for a rear-window violation from Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Larson dropped from 10th to 11th in the standings behind Aric Almirola. Larson also lost one playoff point from his second stage victory at Kansas.

Car chief David Bryant was suspended for two points races for the L1 violation. Crew chief, Chad Johnston was fined $50,000

MORE: NASCAR official says teams will get maximum penalties for future rear-window violations

The NASCAR penalty report cited Larson’s team for violating “Section 20.4.h Body and 20.4.8.1.b&c Rear Window Support and Structure; rear window support braces must keep the rear window glass rigid in all directions at all times.”

In a statement, Chip Ganassi Racing announced it wouldn’t challenge the penalty: “Although all parties agree that the infraction was unintentional and the result of contact, we will not appeal the penalty so that we can focus our energy on the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600.”

After he finished fourth at Kansas, Larson blamed his sagging rear window on damage from contact with Ryan Blaney with 20 laps to go.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about Larson’s car: “We see claims of damage, but I think in talking to our folks, I’ve never seen damage cause that.”

It’s the fifth rear-window violation in the Cup Series this season and the third in two weeks.

After the May 6 race at Dover International Speedway, the teams of Clint Bowyer (second) and Daniel Suarez (third) received similar penalties to Larson’s.

Kevin Harvick also was penalized after his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March, and Chase Elliott’s team was punished after the April 8 race at Texas Motor Speedway.

The only other penalty NASCAR announced Tuesday was a $10,000 fine to crew chief Todd Gordon for an unsecured lug nut on Joey Logano‘s car after the Kansas race.

NASCAR executive addresses Kyle Larson’s rear window issue at Kansas

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Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, has cast doubt on Kyle Larson‘s claim that his rear window was sagging after Saturday’s Cup race due to race damage.

“We see claims of damage, but I think in talking to our folks, I’ve never seen damage cause that,” O’Donnell said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “We’ll go back like we always do and thoroughly inspect the car. It’s an area we continue to focus on because the teams know that they found something there and if we have to react, we will, but again, still looking at it.”

Extra attention was paid to Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet following the race at Kansas Speedway. An official kept watch over it on pit road, and it was taken to the R&D Center for additional scrutiny.

The rear window appeared to be sagging, which Larson attributed to damage from an incident with Ryan Blaney with 20 laps to go.

“Definitely (from the damage) because I didn’t have it until after Blaney and I got together, so I’m glad to see that we have a lot of damage back there,” Larson told FS1 after finishing fourth. “Because obviously if there was no damage, we’d probably get a penalty, and who knows we might still, but I got a ton of damage back there.

“These cars are pretty rigid, and one piece of damage can affect the whole rest of the car as you can see, so we’ll see what NASCAR says about it, but I think it’s pretty obvious we have a ton of damage back there.”

NASCAR has issued four penalties for rear window violations this season: Kevin Harvick’s team after a Las Vegas win; Chase Elliott’s team after an 11th at Texas; and Daniel Suarez and Clint Bowyer each lost their car chiefs for two races because of rear window support brace failures at Dover.

O’Donnell was asked about the possibility of news later in the week about Larson’s car.

“I think there’s certainly something you can look for,” O’Donnell said. “With the race teams, no different than rear skew in the past where it was an area teams found that they could work on. Suddenly, it’s become the rear window area.”

NASCAR executive: Teams not getting through inspection ‘frustrating’

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Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, called the pattern of teams not getting cars through inspection “frustrating” for the sanctioning body.

Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” Monday morning, O’Donnell addressed the issue after a weekend where six teams were unable to make qualifying attempts for the Cup race at Kansas Speedway due to not passing inspection in time.

Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, Kasey Kahne, Timmy Hill and Michael McDowell did not make qualifying attempts and started from the rear of the field.

The teams of Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray had to scramble to get their cars on the track with less than two minutes left in Round 1.

“It’s really a frustrating topic for us,” O’Donnell said. “You’ve heard me come on and say we’ve got the most talented engineers in the world working on the race cars and we believe that. And it’s certainly frustrating because it is on the teams to present their cars for inspection.”

O’Donnell compared the inspection issue to a hypothetical scenario in baseball.

“It’s become really the equivalent of a Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs third baseman) coming to the plate with a bat you can’t use,” O’Donnell said. “The umpire says ‘you can’t use that,’ comes back with a bat you can’t use, the umpire says it again and then the third time says ‘you can’t make your plate appearance.’ Then the batter runs to the media and says, ‘I can’t believe they did this.’ At some point it’s frustrating on our end and at some point we’ve got to get the teams to be able to show up and get through tech inspection. It’s the same every week and it’s one of those things that most teams are able to do it.”

O’Donnell said NASCAR needs to “streamline” the process “somehow” and work with teams to ensure “we’re getting everybody out there, that’s what the fans pay to see and that’s what we collectively should want to do as an industry.”

Two weeks ago at Dover, pole-sitter Kyle Larson was one of three drivers who had to start from the rear for issues in pre-race inspection. The car chiefs for Larson and Alex Bowman were ejected from the event for their cars failing inspection three times.

O’Donnell was asked if NASCAR could increase penalties to further deter teams from going over the line.

“We feel like we’ve done that. It hasn’t seemed to work,” O’Donnell said. “I think we’ll go back and just look at it collectively and continue to focus on the teams that are doing it right and really make that be the narrative and continue to do so. Where we can make an adjustment we certainly will. Last thing we want to do you know is penalize any team. We don’t want that to be the narrative. We want the narrative to be around the race product.”

Motivated Jimmie Johnson seeks better results after Kansas

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Jimmie Johnson’s night didn’t start well and got worse from there Saturday at Kansas Speedway, resulting in a 19th-place finish that extended his winless streak to a career-high 34 races.

Starting 23rd, Johnson struggled early with his car’s handling. More trouble arose on a pit stop after the competition caution on Lap 30.

The result was a loose wheel. He had to pit under green on Lap 62 because of that and fell a lap down. He lost a second lap coming to the end of Stage 2 at Lap 160 when Kyle Larson lapped him. Crew chief Chad Knaus was not pleased with the move by the fellow Chevy driver even though Larson was being chased by Kevin Harvick for the stage victory.

“We should have done a … better job there Earl blocking (Larson),” Knaus said on the radio to spotter Earl Barban after the stage ended.

Johnson responded: “It’s not Earl’s fault. I was trying to pass the 24 (teammate William Byron). He was in my … way.”

Two laps down before the final stage began, Knaus radioed Johnson: “Let’s just be smart here, we’re not really racing for anything. We’ve got to have something go our way. We’re going to have to go like 10 laps and get a caution in order to get a wave around.”

They never got the caution.

Later during the final stage, Knaus radioed Johnson: “Use your tools, bud. You alright?”

Johnson responded: “Do you want me to ride or go? What do you want me to do?”

Knaus said: “We need to try to keep our pace. Doing a good job … Try to keep our pace up so we’re not another lap down.”

When the race ended, Knaus radioed the team: “Not a good day guys, I know. We just got to clean it up.”

It wasn’t a good night for all of Hendrick Motorsports, which remains one victory away from 250 career Cup wins. Chase Elliott led the way by placing 12th but said afterward: “Just scratching and clawing to run mediocre. We have a lot of work to do.” Alex Bowman was 18th, Johnson 19th and Byron finished 33rd after crashing late.

This season, Johnson has tweeted inspirational quotes, focusing mainly on quotes from Babe Ruth.

Sunday, Johnson tweeted a quote attributed to Mookie Wilson, a member of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets:

Cut4, a site affiliated with Major League Baseball, had a story in May 2017 about the Mookie Wilson quote and notes that the quote is fake.

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