Broken back expected to keep Aric Almirola sidelined 8-12 weeks

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CONCORD, N.C. -- Aric Almirola said he expects to miss eight to 12 weeks to recover from a broken back suffered in an accident Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

Almirola will need to wait for the compression fracture of his T5 (middle back) vertebra to heal before he can get back into a race car.

"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," the 33-year-old Almirola said. "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."

Richard Petty Motorsports has put Regan Smith in its No. 43 car for the NASCAR Monster Energy All-Star events this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but the team has not determined who will replace Almirola when the regular season resumes next week at Charlotte.

Missing two months pretty much ends any playoff hopes for Almirola, who is 23rd in the NASCAR Cup standings, 62 points outside the current cutoff for the 16-driver NASCAR playoffs with 17 races left in the regular season. Because he won't compete in every regular-season race as required by NASCAR rules, he will need a waiver from NASCAR to remain eligible for the playoffs. Even with a waiver, he would need to win a race and finish in the top 30 of the regular-season standings to qualify for the playoffs.

"Being out eight to 12 weeks and not have a chance at the playoffs -- that stinks. ... To have this happen and sort of derail all of the momentum and progress we had made is tough," Almirola said. "It's tough to swallow for sure.

"It's fate or whatever. There's nothing I can do about it."

His recovery will depend on how long it takes for the bone to heal, said Bill Heisel, who oversees the OrthoCarolina motorsports program and is working in conjunction with doctors at Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine on Almirola's care.

Another accident could result in paralysis if the bone does not heal properly. His next scan is scheduled in three weeks, and that will help determine the length of the recovery.

"This is an injury that affects every way that you move," Heisel said. "It affects your core in every way."

The accident started when something broke on the right front of Joey Logano's car, causing it to turn toward? Danica Patrick. They crashed into the wall, and Almirola slid into Logano about two seconds later. He said his car hit oil or water and felt as if it was on rails as he crashed at a high speed. The rear of his car went up 6 feet into the air.

"I feel like an idiot even being involved in the wreck," Almirola said. "But there was, honestly, nothing I could do. My car was on ice. When you watch the replay, it looks like I'm going way too fast and I am because my car wouldn't slow down. My car had no grip."

Almirola felt lucky to have only an injured back in the accident, in which he said the springs possibly came loose because of the violent impact, causing the car to land on its left-side frame rail. He said NASCAR does not know exactly which impact caused the injury. He dropped the window net immediately because he thought he might be on fire as he felt a burning sensation in his back. When he threw his steering wheel to the dash, it took his breath away because of the pain.

"When I hit Joey's car, I felt pain in my back -- it felt like somebody stuck a knife in my back," he said. "Then I realized my car was airborne because I could see the asphalt. When it came back down, it felt like somebody took that knife and twisted it up in my back."

Almirola said he was pleased with the medical crew that extricated him from the car but was upset over a photo of him that circulated soon after his extrication that showed him being lifted out of the car with a neck brace on a backboard. He said he could hear the camera shutters of photographers outside the wall and that his family was seeing the photos before they could get info from the team or NASCAR.

"I'm pretty pissed off about it. ... They had no idea what was wrong with me," Almirola said. "They didn't know if I was bleeding to death; they didn't know if I was paralyzed. They didn't know anything but they used it as an opportunity to go and snap some pictures from me."

Smith has experience as a fill-in, having been a substitute driver at Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (twice) and Chip Ganassi Racing over the last five years.

"I don't know if it's good or bad doing these type of things, but I feel like I've got quite a bit of experience at it at this point," Smith said. "They're all different and they're all unique in their own way, but they kind of flow the same way."

Wearing an Almirola firesuit that fit quite snug, Smith said he was focused on this weekend and not whether he will get the ride for the entire time Almirola is out of the car.

"Ironically Aric and I are very different sizes, but [his] seat fit really well for me," Smith said. "We had to bring the pedals back quite a ways. ... That's a special car and there's a lot of history behind that car. I guess because me and Aric are friends I've got a little bit more of an emotional investment into this and wanting to do well for him and his team."

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