By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
After eight weeks of recovery time, Aric Almirola will be returning to the cockpit of the No. 43 Ford this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Almirola was injured at Kansas Speedway in early May, suffering an acute compression fracture to his T5 Vertebra in his back after a vicious multi-car crash with Joey Logano and Danica Patrick.
Entering Turn 1 on lap 200, Logano appeared to have something break on the right-front of his car, which turned his Ford to the left, making contact with the right-rear of Patrick’s car and hooking her head-on into the outside wall. With a shower of sparks and a fireball after the heavy contact between the two, Almirola, who was running about 10 positions behind Logano and Patrick, couldn’t get slowed up in time and plowed into Logano’s car, standing his No. 43 car up on the nose before settling back down on the track and coming to rest against the outside wall.
Both Logano and Patrick would be able to get out of their respective cars under their own power, but after dropping his window net to alert NASCAR officials that he was awake and alert, an armada of track safety workers would surround his car and would wind up cutting his roof to get him out of the car.
Almirola was placed on a backboard to get him out of the car safely before being placed on a stretcher and taken to the Infield Care Center. After being evaluated at the track, Almirola, who was awake and alert, was airlifted to a local hospital for further observation.
Once released from the hospital in the following days, Almirola began his recovery process, doing physical therapy, swimming, and testing in a simulation and on track environment. The final step in Almirola’s recovery was to climb back behind the wheel of his car and complete a real world test at Charlotte Motor Speedway to make sure there was no pain when under the load of the G-forces he would experience in a race, which he completed on Tuesday.
While he was recovering, Regan Smith, Billy Johnson, and Darrell Wallace, Jr. substituted for him in the seven races that he missed.
“It felt great to be back in the racecar yesterday,” said Almirola. “After racing in the Monster Energy Series for five and a half years, it got to be routine, and I took it for granted. When something gets taken away from you at a moment’s notice like that, it has certainly made me appreciate my passion for racing and my desire to compete at this level. The thrill of running 200 miles per hour in a stock car was something that I had honestly lost a little bit. After being out of the car for eight weeks, the passion is back, now more than ever.
“Physically, I felt great in the car and had no pain associated with the injury during yesterday’s test. I’d like to sincerely thank all of the medical personnel that have helped me through this process, my family, my friends, my team and all the fans that supported me. I’m very grateful to Bubba (Wallace), Regan (Smith) and Billy (Johnson) for all of their efforts subbing for me both on and off the track. I’m excited to get back to racing against all my friends and peers in the Monster Energy Series.”
Almirola will be making his 14th career start at New Hampshire this weekend, where he has one top-five finish and two top-10 finishes. He currently sits 32nd in points with eight races remaining in the regular season and would need to obtain a waiver from NASCAR to participate in the playoffs should he win a race and make it into the top-30 in points.
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