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May 19, 2017

Almirola gives update, recovery timeline after Kansas wreck

RELATED: Almirola involved in wreck at Kansas

Speaking for the first time since a frightening accident at Kansas Speedway last weekend, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola revealed he waited a day, while still resting in his hospital bed, to watch video footage of his wreck — a wreck he says will sideline him for at least two months.

Almirola’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford smacked the already wrecked cars of Joey Logano and Danica Patrick with 68 laps remaining in the Go Bowling 400, bringing out a red flag. Emergency crews carefully cut Almirola out of his car, and the 33-year-old driver was airlifted to a nearby hospital for evaluation.

Almirola said he expects to miss 8-12 weeks of Monster Energy Series competition while recovering from a fracture of his T5 vertebrae suffered in the accident.

Regan Smith was tabbed to drive the iconic No. 43 Smithfield Foods Ford for Almirola this weekend.

In good spirits, his body still sore, Almirola spoke with before a press conference Friday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race.

RELATED: More on Regan Smith in the No. 43

Although Almirola recalls details of the accident, watching replays of the crash in the days since have both amazed the veteran and made him thankful for the safety of his car.

“I wanted to see it, but I didn’t want to see it that night,” Almirola said. “I watched the replay so I could see it for myself and I wanted to see it so I had a better understanding. Everything happened so fast in the moment, so I was pretty sure how it went down, but not exact of all the details. When you go back and watch the replay it kind of clarified all things. The thing I was most amazed with was how high my car got off the ground.”

Almirola said he thinks he ran over water and oil left from the wrecked Logano and Patrick cars in Turn 2 of the 1.5-mile track, and that essentially diminished any hope of steering away and avoiding the pile-up. NASCAR currently is conducting a thorough review of the entire incident, including a sit-down dialogue with Almirola for his perspective. The car was immediately taken to the Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.

“It didn’t slow down, it didn’t turn, it didn’t do anything,” Almirola said. “I just slid right into the wreck. There was nothing I could do. It was the most helpless feeling because I saw the wreck. I braced because I knew it was coming and as soon as I made impact with Joey’s car it felt like someone put a knife in my back.

“And when I went up in the air and came back down it felt like someone took that knife and just twisted it in my back. And I got a really bad burning sensation in my back.”

Almirola immediately knew he was injured.

“That’s why I dropped the window net so fast and took the steering wheel off,” he said. “When I threw it forward, I was in a lot of pain with my back already and that made it worse extending my hands out in front of me. I looked around and saw I wasn’t on fire that the burning sensation in my back was an enormous amount of pain.

“So I just sat there and waited for the medical team to help get me out. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get out on my own power. I was in way too much pain. I think they did a good job of getting me out of there the best way they could and made sure they stabilized my spine and didn’t do any further damage.”

RELATED: Almirola on extrication: ‘They did a great job’

Nearly a week out from the accident, Almirola says he still is in some pain, although it is much more manageable. Because of the location of the injury — essentially between his shoulder blades — it hurts often in doing the most ordinary of things.

For the time being, doctors said he can’t pick up anything weighing more than five pounds, which is especially troubling for a father of a 3-year old and 4-year-old who are accustomed to spontaneous rides on dad’s hip.

Almirola said because his injury doesn’t require bandages or a cast or something easily associated with injury, it’s hard for his children to understand he’s been hurt.

However, the 2014 Daytona Coke Zero 400 winner says he is grateful for the opportunity to recover and return to work considering the impact he experienced.

“I’ve been racing since I was 8 years old and I crashed plenty of times in a go-kart,” Almirola said. “I’ve crashed plenty of times in a late model coming up and racing in Florida. I’ve been in wrecks in the (Camping World) Truck Series, the XFINITY Series and the Cup series … and that one Saturday was by far the most violent.”

RELATED: Drivers wish Almirola well

Doctors told Almirola that his high level of fitness training should be a huge benefit in recovering from this serious back injury. A former baseball standout in high school, Almirola always has been one of NASCAR’s most fit competitors.

“The doctor told me the very first day he saw me, ‘obviously you’re in good shape. You take good care of your body and you’re in good health, you’re lean. Your body should do a fantastic job of healing itself.’

“That’s still no guarantee, though. He said I had a 90 percent chance of healing really quickly with no need for surgery. But 90 percent also means I have a 1 in 10 chance I won’t heal properly and I could need surgery.”

“Really, I’m just supposed to give it a break. I’m doing everything I can do.”

Almirola said he is so grateful to everyone who has reached out to him in the days following the accident and spends hours responding to the kind text messages and phone calls from all those expressing their care.

“I’ve been very moved and touched by the amount of people who have reached out and come by to visit and expressed their concerns and cares,” Almirola said. “The doctors and neurosurgeon in Charlotte have written me a prescription to go and sit in a chair at the beach. They want me to lay low the next couple weeks.

“I told my wife Janice I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my long-term health. I’ve got a beautiful family and I want to be able to run around outside and throw the baseball with Alex and I want to go to father-daughter dances with Abby and I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize that.”