Thursday, April 26, 2018
Sports

Tampa's Aric Almirola says paralysis fear guides NASCAR return plans

CONCORD, N.C. — Tampa NASCAR driver Aric Almirola talked Friday about his injury suffered in a crash at Kansas Speedway last week, a fractured vertebra that has him out up to three months and vowing to heed doctor warnings and not rush back because further injury could lead to paralysis.

"Everybody is telling me that with this type of fracture it is eight to 12 weeks, so I'm not happy about that," said Almirola, 33. "Getting back in a race car two weeks too soon is just going to add two more starts to my start column and the stat book. But if I were to get in another similar accident and not be properly healed, you're talking about potentially being paralyzed from the belly button down.

"I'm not going to risk that. I've got a lot of baseball to play with my son, and I'd like to dance with my daughter one day at her wedding. Whenever the doctors clear me, I'll be ready to get back in a race car."

Almirola celebrated an Xfinity series win at Talladega with his family May 6. A week later, he was hospitalized overnight in Kansas after the crash in the Cup series Go Bowling 400 before flying to North Carolina, where he has a home, for another diagnosis.

Almirola said Friday he'd stopped taking painkillers 48 hours before his news conference in order to sound coherent. It has been a roller-coaster week, with the Talladega victory underscoring the promise his Richard Petty Motorsports team has shown.

"We've seen momentum, and everything was looking so good, and everybody at the team is happy, everybody just keeps digging harder and working harder," he said. "So to go through Talladega and have Janice and the kids in victory lane with me, and then to have a great run on Sunday (in the May 7 Geico 500), and then literally seven days later to be on a helicopter heading for the hospital — there's nothing that describes it better other than that's our sport.''

Wednesday, with his doctor's permission, Almirola attended a "Catwalk for a Cause" charity fashion event and stiffly walked with Devin, 5, who has leukemia. "I promised that I'd be here to walk with him,'' Almirola said. "So I wasn't going to let him down."

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