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.”

 

News Analysis: Regan Smith to replace Aric Almirola

What happened: “Super Sub” Regan Smith has been summoned for duty once again, this time to replace Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports car for the Monster Energy Open race prior to Saturday night’s All-Star event. Smith, 33, has subbed for Hendrick Motorsports (No. 88 car), Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 14 car, No. 41 car) and Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 42 car) since 2012. He has been racing in the Camping World Truck Series this year, where he is 10th in points.

What it means: At least we know who will be in the No. 43 car for now, although it remains unclear how long Almirola will be out with his fractured vertebra from the Kansas crash. Almirola will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a news conference Friday to “provide an update on his injury and his recovery plan,” RPM said.

News value (scale of 1-10): Only a 3, because this is just one piece of the news. There’s still much to find out about Almirola’s prognosis, how he’s feeling now and how many additional races he could miss.

Questions: Is Smith a lock to replace Almirola until the regular driver is ready to return? How much input did sponsor Smithfield have for who RPM was going to put in the seat? Can Almirola get back by Daytona, where he’s won before, and go for a longshot playoff berth?

Regan Smith lands 12-race deal with Ricky Benton Racing truck team

If you thought Regan Smith might not find a ride in any of NASCAR’s national series this year, think again.

The journeyman driver has landed a 12-race deal with Ricky Benton Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, which puts him on the track while also helps keep his options open to drive in the Cup Series should something come along.

“I wasn’t done racing — don’t count me out yet,” Smith said Wednesday by phone. “It’s just nothing was playing out to be in a good situation in Cup this year.”

That opened the door for Smith to finally team up with Benton, who has known Smith since both were involved in the Pro Cup Series nearly two decades ago. The friends had spoken for years about Smith getting into one of Benton’s trucks, but the timing never worked out until now.

Smith will run Daytona for Benton’s team, then do the next five races after that. The team has sponsorship from Benton’s companies — BTS Tire and Wheel Distributors and Black’s Tire Service, as well as Advance Auto Parts, Goodyear Commercial Tire and Service Network and Valvoline.

“When you’re helping build something and grow something, the expectations come from within,” Smith said. “We’re going to expect a lot and work with that mentality — that we need to do whatever we can. I’ve been a part of building teams before, and I’m looking forward to at least still being at the racetrack.”

At this point in his career, Smith is a survivor. Without funding, it has become increasingly difficult even for experienced drivers to find a competitive ride.

But Smith, 33, has been able to stick around. He’s raced for eight different Cup Series teams, 12 different Xfinity teams and five different Truck teams (Benton will be his sixth), with several of those opportunities coming when teams turned to Smith as a substitute driver.

The way Smith’s career has gone, he knows another unexpected chance to drive could come any day. But for now, he’ll concentrate on being competitive in the No. 92 truck.

Parker Kligerman had a fast start with Benton’s truck last year, posting three top-10 finishes to open the season. But the team’s performance tailed off after that, and there wasn’t enough sponsorship to continue.

“If we could duplicate the start we had last year, that would be an ideal situation,” Smith said. “Then we could aim for top-10s and try to stay up there. We have to work to get consistency a little bit, but I think the sky’s the limit. There’s some really good people down there.”