ARIC ALMIROLA TAKES LONG-TERM APPROACH TO REHAB FROM BACK INJURY
CONCORD, N.C. - When his car slammed into Joey Logano's on Lap 200 of last Sunday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, Aric Almirola felt as if he had a sharp pain in his back.
But the worst was yet to come, as the impact lifted the rear end of Almirola's No. 43 Ford Fusion off the pavement. The car slammed back down on the asphalt with a force that ran through Almirola's body like a jolt of electricity.
Almirola saw the initial collision between Logano and Danica Patrick ahead of him on the track, but was powerless to miss their cars after his Ford ran through fluid on the asphalt and wouldn't turn or slow down.
"I had no grip, and I assumed that when Danica's car blasted the outside wall that it must have knocked the radiator, and oil and stuff got in the outside groove and it ran down the race track and I was in it, so that's how I ended up in the wreck," Almirola said on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"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."
Transported from the accident scene to a local hospital, Almirola was diagnosed with a compression fracture of the T5 vertebra, an injury expected to keep him out of action for eight to 12 weeks.
Richard Petty Motorsports has hired Regan Smith to replace Almirola in the No. 43 Ford for Saturday night's Monster Energy All-Star Race, for which Smith must qualify through the Monster Energy Open. Beyond that, RPM has yet to announce a plan for substitute drivers.
Almirola's absence almost surely will take him out of the championship picture, but the driver has a longer-term perspective, one that will allow him to heal completely before he returns.
"Getting back in a race car two weeks too soon is just going to add two more starts to my start column and the stat book," Almirola said. "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 going to risk it. Whenever the doctors clear me, I'll be ready to get back in a race car."
FOX SPORTS TO FEATURE ALL-DRIVER BROADCAST LINEUP AT POCONO
In a best-case scenario, FOX Sports is handing over the broadcast of the June 10 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Pocono Raceway to those closest to the action.
In a worst-case scenario, FOX is surrendering control of the asylum to the inmates for the telecast that will air on FOX at 1 p.m. ET.
Regardless of perspective, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers tabbed to call the race-from the booth, from pit road and from the Hollywood Hotel-are certain to have fun with the telecast and to provide enjoyment to fans who tune in.
Having served as a co-pilot on previous FOX telecasts, 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick gets a chance to fly solo as the play-by-play man for the event. He'll be joined in the booth by analysts Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer.
Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Erik Jones will serve as pit reporters, with Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin hosting race coverage from the Hollywood Hotel mobile studio.
Harvick, Bowyer, Hamlin, Logano and Patrick have served as driver analysts for FOX Sports' coverage of the NASCAR XFINITY Series at some point since the network began rotating prominent Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers in the booth, beginning with the 2015 season.
"It's going to be a ton of fun," Bowyer said. "There's a lot going on behind the scenes, and pit road reporters have to get the information fast, get counted down, and know who to throw it to ... all these things we take for granted watching the race on TV.
"When you are up there in the booth and you see all of it going down, and the producer is in your ear, it's really eye-opening, so, it's going to be a learning experience. It's going to be something -- I can promise you that."
Booth regulars Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip won't be on camera during the telecast, but they will be at Pocono to backstop the drivers with help and guidance, when asked.
GOODYEAR PLEASED WITH OPTION TIRE PERFORMANCE DURING PRACTICE
Based on Friday's opening practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the experiment with option tires for Saturday night's Monster Energy All-Star Race (on FS1 at 6 p.m. ET) appears destined for success.
The purpose-built tires, which can be used during any of the four segments of the race are fastest at the outset, but their performance falls off more quickly than that of the prime tires Goodyear has provided, as intended.
"From what I've seen so far today, I think NASCAR should be really pleased with what happened this afternoon, because we ended up delivering, I think, exactly what they wanted, which was a faster tire that gave up more," said Stu Grant, general manager of worldwide racing for Goodyear.
"It was three-tenths (of a second) faster than the prime over a 10-lap run, and it gave up three-tenths more. I think you're going to have the comers and goers and strategy-and we'll see what happens."
Competitors can use the options tires in any of the first three 20-lap segments to gain track position. If they choose the option tires for the final 10-lap run, they must start from the rear, but by then the field will be pared down to 10 drivers.
One thing Goodyear didn't anticipate was teams using the option tires during mock qualifying runs in early afternoon on Friday in an attempt to simulate cooler conditions in Friday evening's qualifying session.
"But these guys are creative," Grant said. "They're really smart guys."
-- NASCAR Wire Service --