Story courtesy of Hunter Thomas/TheFourtTurn.com
CONCORD, N.C. – Aric Almirola spoke with the media and updated the NASCAR industry on his recovery from a compression fracture to his T5 vertebra on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Last weekend in the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway, Almirola was caught up in an accident involving Joey Logano and Danica Patrick. As Logano and Patrick crashed in Turn 1, bringing out the caution on lap 201, Almirola, the driver of the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion slid through the turn and impacted both drivers. Flames and sparks ignited, and Almirola's car hit so hard that it got airborne. At Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday morning, he explained the events that transpired during the accident.
"I watched the replay and if you put it on full speed, I was just shy of two seconds behind the accident, so in race car driver terms that is a long way," Almirola said. "I should have missed the wreck, but I committed to turn one. When I got there the cars that I was racing around went to the bottom, so I committed to the very outside lane and simultaneously when I committed to the outside lane I saw the accident up ahead and they came across the race track very abruptly and went into the outside catchfence. I immediately knew that they were in my line of path, so my car was loose into the corner all night anyway, but I was entering the corner, I saw the wreck – was very aware the wreck was there – and I got on the brakes and turned the steering wheel to the left and my car got loose, and the next thing I knew I was on oil or water or something because my car wouldn't slow down, it wouldn't steer. I felt like from that point my car was on railroad tracks and I was just headed straight for the wreck. There was nothing I could do."
As soon as Almirola hit Logano's car, he felt the excruciating pain his back. In fact, Almirola said that his pain level was about a 9.5 out of a scale from 1-10. Not only did the initial contact jolt Almirola's body, but when the car finally landed on the asphalt after being airborne, he took another hard hit.
"I knew it was coming," Almirola said. "I saw it. I braced for the wreck and immediately when I hit Joey's car I felt pain in my back. It felt like somebody stuck a knife in my back and then I realized that my car was airborne because I could see the asphalt and when it came back down it felt like somebody took that knife and just twisted it up in my back."
When his car came to a rest, Almirola said that his adrenaline was so high that he was able to take the window net down and unlock the steering wheel; however, he immediately knew that he wasn't going to be able to climb from the car without assistance.
"Well, I saw that Danica was on fire and when I got in the accident I got this intense burning sensation in my back coupled with pain, so I thought I was on fire," Almirola said. "I was panicking a little bit trying to get my window net down and get my 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 up on the dash and I extended my hands out in front of me that pain intensified even more and I knew I had a problem. It kind of took my breath away and I kind of looked around while I caught my breath and realized that I wasn't on fire, so I just sat there and waited because I knew I had a lot of back pain and I needed to get help getting out of the race car."
Almirola's recovery is projected to be between 8 to 12 weeks. The time table is so long because if he sustains any further injury, he could be paralyzed from the bellybutton down. The 33-year-old has two young kids, and he wants to be a huge part of their lives as they grow older. Missing the Playoffs certainly isn't ideal, but Almirola assures everyone that his health and family comes first. Whatever happens on the race track and in the points is out of his control.
"Getting back in a race car two weeks too soon is just gonna add two more starts to my start column and the stat book, but 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, so I'm not gonna risk that," Almirola said. "I've got a lot of baseball to play with my son and I'd like to dance with my daughter one day at her wedding, so I'm not gonna risk it. Whenever the doctors clear me, I'll be ready to get back in a race car."
This weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Regan Smith is serving as the interim driver of Richard Petty Racing's No. 43 Ford Fusion. In order to compete in Saturday night's Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, Smith will have to race his way in through the Monster Energy Open.