Aric Almirola won’t rush back injury that typically takes 8-12 weeks to heal

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By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s uncertain how long Aric Almirola will be absent from the iconic No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, but he said on Friday that he planned to recover fully before getting back in it.

Almirola suffered an acute compression fracture to his T5 Vertebra in a three-car wreck at Kansas Speedway last Saturday night. It’s an injury that typically requires 8-12 weeks to heal. And though he would like to return sooner, he has been “advised that this is nothing to mess around with.”

“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,” the 33-year-old father of two told the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday.

“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, a native of Tampa, Florida, said he saw the tape of the Kansas crash and said he was just shy of two seconds behind the accident, one that had already taken place between Joey Logano and Danica Patrick on Lap 199.  Logano and Patrick were battling for the 12th position through Turns 1 and 2 when Logano’s No. 22 Ford snapped to the left, turning Patrick’s No. 10 Ford hard into the outside wall and into flames.  Seconds later, Almirola – already committed to the outside lane — barreled into the wreck with his back wheels off the ground.

The race was stopped while safety workers cut the roof off the car to get Almirola out of the equipment. He was airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center, where he stayed overnight. Logano and Patrick were not hurt.

“Yeah, I watched the replay and I feel like an idiot even being involved in the wreck, but there was honestly nothing I could do,” Almirola said Friday. “My car was on ice and when you watch the replay it looks like I’m going way too fast and I am because my car wouldn’t slow down.”

Almirola said he is in “constant pain all the time and the only thing that gets relief is constant change, so if I sit for too long, I’ve got to stand up. When I stand up it feels better because it elongates the spine.”

Still, he is grateful to be up and about after the horrific incident.

“I wish I was sitting here in a driver’s uniform, but I’m not,” said Almirola as he thanked everyone, including his team, sponsors, fans and “supermom” wife, Janice. “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’s back ailment is at a higher level than the injuries that Denny [Hamlin, 2013] sustained or that Tony [Stewart, 2016] sustained, but it has outstanding healing potential, William Heisel, director of OrthoCarolina Motorsports, said.

“Because of the location it’s a very stable fracture from the standpoint that the ligaments that connect the bones are all intact and they’re all doing well based on the imaging studies that we’ve obtained so far, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.

“The days that Aric is not available to move around because of the pain and because of the guarding are days that he’s not using those muscles fully and we’re going to have to rehabilitate those.  So there’s definitively some physical therapy to come.”

Almirola, however, was calling for another order.

“I’m not doing any physical therapy just yet, I can tell you that right now,” he joked.  “It hurts.  I’ve already asked for a prescription to go to the beach.”

Regan Smith will replace Almirola this weekend in the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  RPM has yet to announce the sub beyond that.

“We’re still working through that,” said Brian Moffitt, CEO at Richard Petty Motorsports. “We’re working with our partners.  The process was we wanted to make sure that Aric was OK when this happened.

“As soon as we know for the future we’ll be letting you guys know that, but right now we’re thrilled that Regan’s going to be in the car for this weekend.”

Smith, whose lone Cup win came at Darlington in 2011, has 211 career starts under his belt. He also has four top 5s and 13 top 10s in his 10-year career.

“I hate the circumstances that created this opportunity, but I’m very excited and grateful to have a chance to drive the No. 43 this weekend,” said Smith. “Aric is a friend of mine and his health and a speedy recovery is the most important thing right now. I can’t thank everybody at RPM enough for thinking of me, and I’m excited to represent them and all of their partners.”

Before the injury, Almirola had reeled off two straight Top 10s and an XFINITY win at Talladega Superspeedway.

“We’ve seen momentum and everything was looking so good and everybody at the team is happy, the moral in the shop is good, everybody just keeps digging harder and working harder because when you see those results it just drives more ambition, so to go through Talladega and have such a great weekend there – to win on Saturday and have Janice and the kids in victory lane with me, and then to have a great run on Sunday – and then literally seven days later to be on a helicopter heading for the hospital, there’s nothing that describes it better other than that’s our sport,” he said.

“One day you’re a hero, one day you’re a zero, although I don’t classify myself as a zero just because I broke my back, but I think it does, it messes with your emotions and that’s where I’m fortunate that I have faith that keeps me level.”

Despite the hot streak, Almirola promised to heed to his doctors’ orders and avoid hurrying back. Heading into the Kansas race, he was 17th in the standings, one spot back for the final playoff position.

“I think the incentive to make sure that I can run around in my front yard with my kids is enough for me to not rush back,” he said. “I’m gonna listen to the doctors.  I’m young.  I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me.

“I’ve got a four year old and a three year old at home.  I’m not gonna do anything stupid to rush myself back in a race car and risk not being able to feel anything from my belly button down for the rest of my life.  That’s most important to me.”

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