NASCAR

Aric Almirola expected to be out for 8–12 weeks, Regan Smith in #43 for Open

Aric Almirola, who injured his back in a crash during Saturday’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas, says he expects to be out for 8–12 weeks.

“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 stated. “I’m going to listen to the doctors. I’m young. I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me and I’ve got a 4-year-old and 3-year-old at home. I’m not going to do anything 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.”

On lap 200 of the Go Bowling 400, Almirola was collected in a wreck involving Joey Logano and Danica Patrick. After a brake rotor broke on Logano’s car, he spun into Patrick, destroying the two cars. Almirola attempted to avoid the incident, but slid into Logano. The contact sent Almirola’s #43 car airborne before landing; while in the air, the rear springs fell off the car, causing the car to land on its frame. Over the radio, Almirola signaled to his crew that his back was hurt. Unable to get out of the car under his own power, track officials removed the roof before extracting him. He was airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center shortly after.

An evaluation revealed he suffered a compression fracture of his T5 (middle back) vertebra. In 2013, Denny Hamlin suffered a similar injury to his lower back in a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway, which caused him to miss four races. Tony Stewart’s back injury in 2016 was also a fracture, though it was a burst fracture; he missed the first eight races of the season as a result.

Despite his injury, Almirola confirmed he was able to walk, as exhibited when he walked the red carpet at the Catwalk for a Cause charity event held by fellow driver and Kansas winner Martin Truex Jr. The event, held to support those with cancer, featured drivers participating in a fashion show with children battling various forms of the disease.

“I can walk a little bit. I’ve got a broken back and one of my vertebra is crushed in half,” he commented. “Besides that, I’ll live.

“But it’s a lot easier to come here and deal with the pain, knowing what all of these kids are going through, being able to put up with a few hours of discomfort to support them.”

In Almirola’s place for Saturday’s Monster Energy Open at Charlotte, Regan Smith will drive the #43. Since 2012, Smith has filled in for various drivers in the Cup Series: he drove Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s #88 car at the 2012 Charlotte and Kansas fall races while Earnhardt was sidelined with a concussion; at the 2013 fall Richmond race, he qualified Jimmie Johnson’s #48 car while Johnson was on paternity leave; for the 2014 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, he was a substitute driver for Jeff Gordon after the four-time champion complained of back spasms (though Gordon was able to qualify the #24 and run the full race); in August, he drove the #14 in place of Stewart at Watkins Glen after Stewart was involved in a sprint car accident the night before the race; in 2015, he drove Kurt Busch’s #41 car for the first three races of the year while Busch was suspended for accusations of domestic violence; later that year, he replaced Kyle Larson in the #42 at the spring Martinsville race after Larson fainted the day before the race. In seven races as a relief driver, Smith has recorded five top-20 finishes, including a 7th-place run at the 2012 Kansas race.

Smith currently drives the #92 in the Camping World Truck Series. After four races, the 2011 Southern 500 winner is 10th in the points standings.

In order to advance to the All-Star Race, Smith would need to win either one of the three segments in the Open. While there is a Fan Vote, Smith would not be eligible to proceed into the All-Star through it, even if Almirola received the most votes.

The Monster Energy Open and Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race will be held on Saturday, May 20. The open

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