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Thursday June 29th, 2017 12:01PM

Aric Almirola to miss 8-12 weeks due to back injury

By Pete McCole
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CONCORD, N.C. - Aric Almirola is likely to miss 8-12 weeks as he recuperates from a broken back suffered in a crash last Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, possibly knocking his team out of contention for the 2017 championship battle.

Almirola spoke to the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday morning, where he addressed the accident and his recovery process.

“I wish I was sitting here in a driver’s uniform, but I’m not,” said Almirola, who appeared with RPM CEO Brian Moffitt and Director of OrthoCarolina Motorsports William Heisel. “First and foremost, I want to thank God. I didn’t think I was lucky. I was pretty upset in the moment and then after meeting with doctors in Kansas and Charlotte I realized how fortunate I was. I want to thank the Good Lord for looking out for me.”

Almirola sustained a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra and had to be cut out of his car after slamming into the cars of Danica Patrick and Joey Logano in turn one on lap 201, bringing out a nearly 30 minute red flag. He was then airlifted to a hospital for further observation before being released and returning to Charlotte the next day.

Almirola was several seconds behind the initial wreck but got caught up in debris and fluid from the accident that caused him to shoot up the racetrack “(like) my car was on ice,” Almirola said.

“I knew it was coming. 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.

“I am really thankful looking back on it and watching the replay, I’m very, very thankful that’s the only thing that happened in that wreck is that I got a broken back. I think if Joey’s car would have been three feet more down the race track and I would have hit him in the door number, that would have been very violent and I think Joey would have been seriously injured. And obviously seeing Danica’s car on fire. If I would have got into the back of her and run into her fuel cell or something like that, it could have been a lot worse than it was. For all relative circumstances, I guess things worked out the best they could.”

Almirola has been in near constant pain since the accident, and stressed he won’t rush his return to the race track until he’s ready.

“I’ve worked with my doctors down in Charlotte and obviously Dr. Bill Heisel here,” said Almirola. “We’re working on it, but everybody is telling me that with this type of fracture it’s 8-12 weeks, so I’m not happy about that, but Dr. Cork in Charlotte advised me that this is nothing to mess around with, definitely need to make sure that this is properly healed before I get back in a race car.

“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. 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.”

Almirola was coming off one of his best weekends of racing just the week before the accident, winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega and finishing fourth in the Cup Series race – tying his best Cup finish of the season.

If the 8-12 week timetable holds true, he has little if any chance of making the playoffs.

“Being out 8-12 weeks and not having a chance at the Playoffs, obviously that stinks, especially coming off Talladega,” said Almirola. “When we left Talladega we were only one point out of being in the Playoffs, so I hate it for our race team, for all the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports that work so hard. To have this happen and sort of derail all of the momentum and progress that we had made is tough.

“I can’t go back. I can’t change it, so we’ll have to figure it out and move forward and I’m not gonna rush to get back in the car just because Playoffs are on the line or anything like that. I’m gonna make sure I’m properly healed before I get back in the race car.”

Richard Petty Motorsports announced earlier in the week that driver Regan Smith will fill in as driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion for this weekend’s Monster Energy All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Beyond this weekend, the team hasn’t made any decisions on a substitute driver.

While Almirola had high praise for the safety workers and to NASCAR for their safety initiatives, he was highly critical of several photos that were shared on social media of Almirola being extricated from his car, calling them “extremely unprofessional”.

“They (the photographers) 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 snap some pictures of me,” said Almirola. “They were literally three feet away 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 was obviously in a very vulnerable situation and I’m disappointed to say the least. I think whatever. If they got $500 for selling it for USA Today I hope they enjoy that $500 because they had no idea when I got pulled out of the race car if they were gonna see a pool of blood all over my uniform, they didn’t know if my legs were going to be attached, they didn’t know any of that and they were just sitting there with their shutters flying wide-open. So I just think it’s extremely unprofessional.”

WDUN will have live MRN Radio coverage of Saturday night's Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race from Charlotte Motor Speedway beginning at 5:30 pm on 102.9 FM and AM 550.

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