CONCORD, N.C. — Following a sponsorship announcement with Maaco for this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he had spoken with Aric Almirola on Wednesday evening about the three-car crash that occurred during the Go Bowling 400.
“I talked to Aric (Wednesday) night and he said when his car went up in the air both rear springs fell out of the car, so the car came back down and hit the frame,” Earnhardt said. “He said it was the highest-recorded g-force vertically that they’d ever seen. And I can imagine that if the car slams down on the chassis.”
Almirola, 33, suffered a fracture of the T5 vertebra following the incident. How long he will be out of the car has not been announced. Richard Petty Motorsports officials have announced that former series driver Regan Smith will pilot the team’s No. 43 Ford in this weekend’s Monster Energy Open qualifying race.
“They can look at why that happens and how to fix that so that when the car lands it doesn’t land directly on the frame,” Earnhardt said of NASCAR’s post-race safety evaluation. “Because there’s no breakaway or cushion at that point to the driver. He’s bolted to the frame. They’ll look at all the things that happened in the series of events that happened during that accident to find ways to help guys that are in that situation again.”
Almirola, RPM CEO Brian Moffitt and Bill Heisel, director of OrthoCarolina Motorsports, are scheduled to meet with the media Friday to discuss Almirola’s injury, rehabilitation and the team’s plans moving forward. The press conference will be streamed live on NASCAR.com. You can watch that here.
The wreck occurred on Lap 199 of the 267-lap race and began when Joey Logano (Team Penske Ford) made contact with Danica Patrick (Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) in Turn 1. Patrick’s car slammed nose-first into the wall and caught fire; Logano’s Ford also hit the wall hard and the two were still sliding up against the wall when Almirola’s car piled into the left front of Logano.
Both Logano and Patrick were visibly shaken, but neither was injured. Almirola, however, had to be removed from his car by rescue personnel after safety workers cut away the roof of his car.
The race was stopped for nearly 28 minutes while rescue personnel attended to the drivers and workers cleared the track of debris.
“That was an incredibly terrible accident,” Earnhardt said. “Danica was extremely lucky as were the other two drivers.”
Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most popular driver, will step away from competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after this season. He missed the final half of 2016 due to a concussion. He also missed two races in 2012 for a similar injury. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is well-versed in NASCAR’s safety protocol.
“Having talked to NASCAR a lot over the last couple of years I really feel good about how proactive they are; they have specific individuals that that’s their job every day, to science this stuff out and be looking at ways to improve,” he said. “We never used to have that. It used to be more what the teams could do and what the drivers wanted to do and you did most of that safety advancing behind the closed doors of the shop. Now we have people within the industry that they have on payroll that that’s their job. So that makes me feel very comfortable.”
As for what the future holds for his fellow driver, Earnhardt said he offered no words of advice. Almirola competed for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team in 2010-11 in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
“Aric’s really sharp. He knows he needs to take care of himself,” Earnhardt said. “The doctors told him how lucky he was, how easily that could have went the other way … had he gotten some spinal cord damage, how easily that could have happened for him. He’s well aware and he won’t be rushing back to put himself in any kind of danger going forward.
“But it’s a tough situation for him. He certainly doesn’t want to give up his opportunity and lose his place in the sport as a driver and I can understand. I’m certain he has concerns in the back of his mind even though he knows he needs to take care of himself. But he loves driving; he wants that opportunity when he gets well.”