Aric Almirola addresses his crash, injury and prognosis

Aric Almirola spoke to the media Friday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Here are some highlights of what he said:

— Due to his broken T5 vertebra, Almirola said he is likely out for eight to 12 weeks. That would put a possible return in mid-July to early August. Almirola said his doctors told him he could be paralyzed from his belly button downward if he rushed back too soon and injured himself further. “I’ve got a lot of baseball to play with my son and I want to dance with my daughter at her wedding,” Almirola said. “I’m not going to risk it.”

— Almirola remains in constant pain and is very uncomfortable. “Nothing alleviates the pain,” he said, and sleeping is very difficult. The pain in his back started immediately when he made contact with Joey Logano’s car — “it felt like somebody stuck a knife in my back” — and when the car came back down and landed from the rear wheels getting airborne, “it felt like somebody took that knife and twisted it in my back.” Still, Almirola said he “realized how fortunate I was” not to be injured worse.

— There were two seconds between the Logano/Danica Patrick crash and Almirola’s impact. Almirola acknowledged that was a “long way” and said “I should have missed the wreck.” But Almirola was committed to the top lane, and when he tried to turn and avoid the crash, his car either hit oil or water. “My car wouldn’t slow down, it wouldn’t steer,” he said. “It felt like I was on railroad tracks and I was headed straight for the wreck. … I feel like an idiot even being involved in the wreck. But there was honestly nothing I could do. It was like it was on ice.”

— Almirola blasted the photographers who snapped pictures of him while he was being taken out of the car. “I’m pretty pissed off about it, to be honest with you,” he said. “I think that is extremely unprofessional. They had no idea was what wrong with me. They didn’t know if I was paralyzed or anything. They were literally three feet away with their shutters running wide open the entire time. … I was obviously in a very vulnerable situation, and I’m disappointed, to say the least. They didn’t know if my legs were going to be attached, they didn’t know any of that.”

— Due to the pain, Almirola said he initially had an “intense burning sensation” in his back — and that’s why he dropped the window net right away. “I thought I was on fire,” he said. “I got my window net down based on pure adrenaline. When I extended my hands out in front of me (to take the wheel off), I knew I kind of had a problem and it took my breath away.”

— In addition, Richard Petty Motorsports executive Brian Moffitt said the team’s plans for a substitute driver beyond the All-Star Race (where Regan Smith will drive) are yet to be determined. “(We) came up with a list of people and we’re still working through that with our partners,” he said. “Right now, we’re thrilled Regan is going to be in the car for this weekend.”

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the Kansas race

Five thoughts from Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway…

1. Please be OK

The Joey Logano/Danica Patrick/Aric Almirola crash was the scariest incident in a non-plate Cup Series race in a long, long time. It’s not worth ranking crashes against one another, but it was in a category of frightening wrecks that seem part of a bygone era — when those incidents came with a high risk of serious injury or worse.

Of course, this stretch since 2001 is an illusion. NASCAR is safer now, but it’s not safe. And perhaps everyone has been lulled into a false sense of security.

Can you blame people? When drivers emerge from vicious crashes time and time again — even situations like Michael McDowell at Texas, for example — we just come to expect it. So as bad as Almirola’s hit was — rear tires off the ground and all — it was actually surprising when he appeared to be injured and had to be removed on a backboard.

Seeing the roof cut off of a car to get the driver out was an unfamiliar sight for fans who started following NASCAR in the last decade or so. I don’t recall seeing this happen in the Cup Series since I’ve been covering it (starting in 2004).

Fortunately, Almirola was conscious and able to move enough to drop the window net. As of writing this, there’s no official update on his injuries yet. Update: The team did not disclose Almirola’s injuries, but said he is in stable condition and is being held for observation overnight at a local hospital. Hoping the best for Almirola and his family should be the biggest concern for now.

But we should also use this as a reminder that crashes won’t always have a favorable outcome.

“It’s a dangerous sport — always has been, always will be,” Brad Keselowski said. “Sometimes we forget that and maybe take for granted that you see real hard hits and people walk away, and then you see one where someone doesn’t, and it puts things back into perspective just how dangerous it can be.”

2. Truex capitalizes

Although Ryan Blaney had two late chances to beat Martin Truex Jr. on a restart and score his first victory, the race may actually have been decided on the third-to-last caution.

On that restart, Blaney was on the inside of the front row with Truex lined up behind him. Truex went down to the apron and Blaney tried to block — but Truex then faked him out, went up the track to the preferred higher lane and drove away. Truex never trailed after that.

It was the move of a driver who has lost more races than he’s won, especially over the last few years, and is practically desperate not to let any more victories slip away. And in some ways, drivers have to learn what loses races like these before they understand what actions result in a win.

“You don’t forget those days that ones got away or you screwed up and gave one away or anything like that,” Truex said. “You never forget those things. They always stick with you.”

Granted, many of the missed opportunities haven’t been his fault, but they seem to bring out an extra level of determination to seize the chances that continue to come his way.

Blaney will eventually figure out how to close races. The more he’s in the position to have a shot at the win — like at Kansas — the better he’ll become.

3. Loose ends

Perhaps more than any driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is conscious of when his wheel might be loose.

Can you blame him? If his team leaves the wheel loose enough to come off (like it nearly did at Talladega last week), Earnhardt could hit the wall at full speed and have his career come to a premature end with another concussion — perhaps even having lifelong implications.

So when there’s a chance he might have a wheel loose, he’s going to err on the side of caution. It’s just not worth it to risk it otherwise.

You would think, then, that the No. 88 team would be particularly diligent about getting the wheels secured. If nothing else, it’s a confidence thing for Earnhardt to know he can go out and drive aggressively.

But it was another verse of the same old song at Kansas, where Earnhardt had a loose wheel again. However, he also said he pitted in one instance when it wasn’t necessary — because he mistakenly believed  another one was loose.

“I came in for a vibration that wasn’t a loose wheel and we lost a lap and we got it back and ended up 20th,” he said. “I made a few mistakes tonight on the vibrations and what I thought they were and it cost us a lot of track position. It cost about 10 spots at least.

“I’m just a little confused as to why we can’t seem to shake this … I can’t say it’s really bad luck because tonight really was our own doing, but we can’t get in harmony and know whatever it is.”

This reminded me of the time in 2010 at Dover, when Earnhardt pitted by mistake because he thought his tire was flat — but it was actually just his car acting up. But there’s one big difference: He has speed now, whereas the cars back then pretty much sucked.

So although Earnhardt fans are certainly frustrated and are calling for Greg Ives’ job or pit crew changes, I don’t think the 88 team is that far off. The best chance for a victory is to stick together, put together a few mistake-free weeks and then get thoughts of loose wheels out of Earnhardt’s head.

4. False hope?

Just when it looked like Joe Gibbs Racing was going to have a shot to get its first win of the season, it got bested by affiliate Furniture Row Racing again.

All four of JGR’s cars were in the top 10 for much of the race, and Kyle Busch led 59 laps. But Busch ultimately ended up fifth — the highest-running JGR car — and it looked like the team still has much work to do in order to meet its standards from the last two years.

“We just don’t have that speed to be first,” Busch told FS1 after the race. “We don’t have that dominant speed to be up there all day.”

Especially, Busch added, to compete with the 78 car. Which is weird, since they’re basically both on the same team.

My favorite theory in explaining this is echoing something Jimmie Johnson noted last year about affiliate teams. The supplier (like JGR) builds chassis and pours all its knowledge and manpower into making them the best it can; but then affiliates like Furniture Row take the car and has its own very smart people put another twist on it.

It’s sort of like taking an A- English paper written by someone else, making a few tweaks and getting an A+ on it.

Still, that has to bug the crap out of JGR — although Furniture Row is doing exactly what it should be.

5. Points picture

The regular season is approaching its halfway point (Kansas was Race No. 11 of 26), so the standings are starting to be a legitimate concern for some drivers.

Stage points have created some big gaps between the drivers who regularly run up front and those who have struggled, and the latter include some big names.

Earnhardt is 25th in the standings, 77 points out of a playoff spot. Matt Kenseth is 18th. Daniel Suarez, who is driving for a team that made the final four last year, is 19th. And 2016 playoff driver Austin Dillon is 22nd.

So while there’s still a long way to go, there’s little margin for error remaining for drivers who are off to slow starts.

DraftKings Fantasy NASCAR Picks: Kansas Speedway

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission. Disclosure No. 2: I might be America’s worst daily fantasy player.

Last race’s results: Was unable to play for Talladega due to Alabama state laws. Would have won $50,000 if my lineup had been entered (I’m kidding).

Season results: $19 wagered, $7 won in eight contests.

This week’s contest: $4 Brake Pad game with a single entry allowed.

Kansas picks:

Kevin Harvick ($10,400). It seems like Harvick has a typically great intermediate track car (he was second in 10-lap averages for final practice). Even though he starts eighth, Harvick could be the hammer for much of the race if he gets track position. I’m counting on it.

Jimmie Johnson ($10,100). He’s coming from the back (well, 29th) after failing to make a qualifying lap and has won at Kansas three times. Oh, and he was fastest among the 20 drivers who did 10-lap runs in final practice.

— Clint Bowyer ($8,600). Again, I’m going with one of the drivers who didn’t make a qualifying lap and thus has to start 30th. Pretty sure he’s going to be moving up quickly through the field, and I love the positions differential opportunity.

Kasey Kahne ($7,800). Are you sensing a theme here? Good bargain for a guy who has huge upside with his points differential after failing to post a qualifying lap (he starts 31st).

Erik Jones ($7,700). I’ve picked Jones a lot this year, with mixed results. But he usually ends up running well — luck aside — and he’s too temping to pass up again after starting 32nd.

Landon Cassill ($5,200). I only had $5,400 left after picking all those other guys, so it was either Cassill or his teammate David Ragan. And both of them — you guessed it — start in the back after not posting a qualifying lap. I picked Ragan last week, so I guess I’ll go with Cassill this week.

Friday at Kansas Speedway: Best of the transcripts

I’m not at Kansas Speedway this weekend. If you’re reading this, you might not be there, either.

Fortunately, the manufacturers send out transcripts of the news conferences and can help us see what we all missed.

Here’s the best of Friday’s news conferences, courtesy of Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet transcripts:

Daniel Suarez said he’s still in touch with Carl Edwards. “I’m still talking to Carl, actually,” he said. “Not super often, (not) every day, but very often. He still calls me once in awhile.”

Clint Bowyer predicted his victory party — whenever win comes — will be much cooler than any celebration former party animal Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have these days. “What is he gonna have, a bike-riding party?” Bowyer said, referring to Earnhardt’s new workout routing. “What has happened to this guy? I so hope that you write that and he reads that.”

— Martin Truex Jr. said it’s doubtful he — or anyone — can match his record-breaking performance in the Coca-Cola 600, when he led .”I don’t think anybody can do that again,” he said. “Look how long it took. It’s pretty amazing to think about what we did, really. All the years that NASCAR has been around and the great drivers and the stories, and to do that in this day and age was incredible. Going to be tough to top that one for sure.”

— Dale Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged it’s been difficult to see late cautions — the validity of which have been questionable at times — take away potential wins from his JR Motorsports cars at Richmond and Talladega. “Especially the last couple of weeks, it’s been real difficult,” he said. “I’m telling you, I ain’t been so sick to my stomach after races as an owner as I have these last two, with the way the cautions have feel for us. And you get angry and you are just as angry as you can (be) before about an hour and then you kind of calm down, try to talk yourself out of it.”

— Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said he wants his team to keep pushing ahead as if it hadn’t won at Talladega and locked itself into the playoffs. “I told the guys I wanted to make it on points,” he said. “Let’s be consistent, let’s make sure we are running well and not slacking off. I want to act like we don’t have the win and still try to make it in on points.”

— Jamie McMurray said young teammate Kyle Larson has opened his eyes a bit to a different way of driving. “I grew up working on cars and always trying to make the car better and drive better and try to make the chassis handle better,” McMurray said. “And Kyle grew up in a totally different era where you just drive the car. And if the car’s not good, you move your line around. I feel like he’s somewhat opened my eyes in that we’re not always going to get the car perfect. And if the car’s not perfect, then maybe search around and see if maybe you can figure something out.”

 

Fan Profile: Kendra Corneliusen

These 12 Questions-style fan profiles are one of the rewards offered as a tier on my Patreon page. You can catch up on the other profiles so far this season here.

Name: Kendra Corneliusen
Location: Kansas City metro area
Twitter name: @kcorneliusen

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 1994.

2. How many races have you attended?

I’ve attended 15 races.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

It’s been Brad Keselowski for the last five years.

4. What made you a fan of his?

His tenacity and go get ’em attitude.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Tony Stewart.

6. Why didn’t you like him?

He gave the appearance that he was above everyone else. He let his emotions get the most of him and didn’t race with respect for the sport.

7. What is your favorite track?

Kansas Speedway of the ones I’ve visited, but Pocono is on my list.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Certainly not the new rules that were announced this year. It’s made for an interesting year for sure!

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The ability for one team to only have a certain number of cars. That way, it gives everyone a chance and there’s not one MAJOR player in the sport.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

It depends on if I am watching the race alone or with others.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

Just enjoy it. The sport is great if you can get past your “friends” mocking your love for the sport of left turns.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

Enjoy life each day — I do!