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 America at 5 p.m. ET: Aric Almirola joins Dale Jr. around the Big Oak table

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NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN with another edition of #WednesDale.

Aric Almirola will join Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte to discuss his season to date.

  • Almirola  will also discuss his journey to NASCAR, his family’s remarkable history, and more.
  • He will also answer fan questions, so if you have one for him, send it to us on social media using the hashtag #Wednesdale!
  • NASCAR America will also show what happened on ‘This Day in NASCAR.’ An interesting bit of history took place 14 years ago at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and it involved two of our own!

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Chase Elliott joins Dale Jr. and the gang

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Chase Elliott will join Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton around the Big Oak Table on today’s NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

On today’s show:

  • Dale Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte will talk to Chase about his up-and-down 2018 season, growing up in a storied racing family, and dealing with his status as a fan favorite. We’ll also be taking your questions for Chase, so be sure to send them on social media using the hashtag #Wednesdale!

 

  • On this day 25 years ago, one of the closest finishes in Cup Series history took place at Talladega! We’ll relive the excitement on This Day in NASCAR.

 

  • And wait ‘til you see what one young NASCAR fan has created ahead of this weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway. You’ve never seen the Tricky Triangle like this!
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

NBC Sports to debut ‘NBC Race Team Broadcast’ at New Hampshire

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As part of its way of reinventing how it presents NASCAR races to fans, NBC Sports will present an analyst-only broadcast for the July 22 Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will call the race from the booth. Called from NASCAR on NBC’s traditional broadcast booth above the start-finish line, the “NBC Race Team Broadcast” will bring fans closer to their favorite drivers and teams as pre-playoff competition heats up at “The Magic Mile.”

Lead broadcaster Rick Allen will report from pit road to give fans a different view of the Cup race. Allen will call the Xfinity race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this Saturday, July 21 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN alongside Earnhardt and Burton. Letarte will contribute from the Peacock Pit Box.

Allen will return to the broadcast booth for NBCSN’s broadcast of the Cup race at Pocono Raceway on July 29.

The broadcast lineup at New Hampshire is one of many NBC Sports has used and will use to broadcast Cup races this season. Already, NBC Sports has put its broadcasters in two separate booths and had Steve Letarte on the Peacock Pit Box. Additional variations are planned later this year.

“We have a multi-option offense, and are again excited to try a different booth setup for our NASCAR Cup Series race broadcast in New Hampshire,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer & President, Production, NBC & NBCSN. “We’re putting people in positions to make it fun for the audience, and the ‘NBC Race Team Broadcast’ will bring a unique and different perspective to the race.”

 

Friday 5: Lack of cautions limit gambles by crew chiefs

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The art of gambling along pit road could become more difficult even as some crew chiefs become more desperate.

Cautions are down 23.6 percent this season compared to this time last year. Simply, there are fewer opportunities for strategy calls by crew chiefs. It also means there are not as many chances to improve a car late in the race to challenge Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, who have combined to win 14 of the first 16 Cup races.

But what’s key is when those cautions aren’t taking place.

Cautions in the final stage of the race — when a crew chief can have the most impact with strategy — are down 41.4 percent from this point last season.

Seven of the first 16 races have seen either one or zero cautions in the final stage. While green-flag racing can be great for fans, it limits opportunities for crew chiefs to gamble.

“The lack of yellows is helping the dominant cars win the race and hurting the creative guys trying to mix up the field,” NBC analyst Steve Letarte said this week during the NASCAR America Debrief podcast with Nate Ryan.

Only once in the last four races has there been more than one caution in the final stage. That was Pocono, where Busch give up the lead to pit with 20 laps to go while Truex stayed out. Busch restarted eighth, behind cars that did not pit or took only two tires. A pair of late cautions limited Busch’s opportunity to get to the front quickly. The result was that he finished third to Truex. Kyle Larson, who also did not pit during that caution with 20 laps to go, finished second.

There have been a couple of races where gambles could have been made but weren’t this season. At Richmond, the lack of gambling was curious. At Michigan, radar and weather apps thwarted crew chiefs.

As the Cup Series heads into the final 10 races before the playoffs, beginning with Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the race for those final playoff spots will become intense. Only six of the 16 spots are set based on drivers who have won. 

If the trend continues of the same drivers winning — Harvick, Truex, Busch and Bowyer have combined to win the last six races — the pressure will build on teams hoping to win to make the playoffs. With fewer cautions, the chances of those teams will grow more desperate. 

2. Domination

At some point someone has to break the stranglehold Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have had at 1.5-mile tracks. Right?

Those three have combined to win the last 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks, dating back to last year’s race at Kentucky. Seven times during that streak, including the last four races, Harvick, Busch or Truex have taken the top two spots.

Of course, Truex has won the past two races at Chicagoland Speedway, site of Sunday’s race and a 1.5-mile track.

The only driver not named Harvick, (Kyle) Busch or Truex to finish in the top two in a 1.5-mile race this season is Brad Keselowski, who was runner-up to Harvick at Atlanta in March.

And, if you discount the plate races, Harvick, Busch and Truex have combined to win 20 of the last 23 races (86.9 percent) since the start of last year’s playoffs.

3. Staying put

If you missed it, Denny Hamlin said on this week’s Dale Jr. Download that he is in the first year of a “long-term” contract with Joe Gibbs Racing.

The 37-year-old Hamlin, who has 31 career Cup victories but none this year, told Dale Earnhardt Jr. that he plans to keep racing for some time.

“I’ve got a good long-term contract now that we just started this year that goes for a while and maybe do another short one after that and that would be it,” Hamlin said. “Not that I don’t love the sport. I want to go as long as I’m competitive, obviously. That’s going to be right around the time my kids are going to start to be in sports or whatever they’re in to, and I want to be around for that.”

4. Good and bad

Kyle Busch has won four races, but he’s been passed for the win four times this season.

He’s won at Texas, Bristol, Richmond and the Coca-Cola 600. He was the last driver to lead before the eventual winner took the point at Las Vegas (Harvick won), Auto Club (Truex), Martinsville (Bowyer) and Pocono (Truex).

5. When will Chevrolet win again?

Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 win is Chevrolet’s only Cup victory in the last 26 races.

Chevrolet’s last five wins have been by Larson (fall Richmond and both Michigan races last year), Kasey Kahne (Indianapolis last year) and Dillon (Daytona 500).

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