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Aric Almirola’s crash offers reminder about perils of racing

The 33-year-old driver suffered a compression fracture in his back after being involved in an accident during Saturday night’s NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 400
Aric Almirola is removed from the No. 43 car and placed on a backboard after a crash during Saturday night’s race at Kansas.
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

A driver is involved in a brutal crash of some nature that leaves you aghast, in fear for their well-being and wondering if they’ll be able to walk away. It’s a familiar scene that unfolds many times throughout the course of a NASCAR season.

More often than not, though, the driver does just that — walks away under their own power to an awaiting ambulance where they’re then taken for a medical evaluation, and in short order they’re cleared to resume racing.

That NASCAR hasn’t had a fatality in one of its three national divisions since 2001 is a testament to its steadfast commitment to safety, including requiring drivers to wear head-and-neck restraints, tracks to install energy-absorbent barriers, and stringent rules covering the construction of cars so that when a crash does occur the driver doesn’t bear the brunt of the impact.

These innovations are wonderful, and many a driver’s life has been saved as a result. But it’s also made it easy to skip past the fact that racing is inherently dangerous and one’s pursuit of speed poses great risk.

“It's a dangerous sport,” Brad Keselowski said. “Always has been, always will be. Sometimes we forget that and maybe take for granted that you see real hard hits and people walk away, and then you see one where someone doesn't, and it puts things back into perspective just how dangerous it can be.”

Keselowski’s comments came following Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway, a race marred by a scary-looking crash involving Joey Logano, Danica Patrick, and Aric Almirola.

The accident was triggered by a parts failure on Logano’s car, which turned him into Patrick as the two raced into Turn 1 at speeds in the neighborhood of 210 mph. What ensued was Patrick slamming head-on into the outside wall, and a trailing Almirola losing control and plowing into the cars of Logano and Patrick, causing Almirola’s rear tires to lift off the ground and a fireball to engulf Patrick’s car.

In terms of sheer violence, this three-car crash was on the higher end of the spectrum. Immediate concern was for Patrick, who appeared to take the worst of it. But as is the norm in modern-day NASCAR, Patrick was fine. She quickly scrambled out of her battered No. 10 Ford and made her way to an ambulance for a trip to the infield care center. Logano, too, was fine and joined Patrick in the same ambulance.

Almirola wasn’t as fortunate. Unlike Logano and Patrick and so many others before him, he wasn’t able to walk away unscathed as the latest example to the wonderment of safety.

Although alert and awake, Almirola had been injured. Track workers needed to cut off the roof of the No. 43 Ford to safely remove him in the type of scene one longtime NASCAR reporter said he hadn’t witnessed in over a decade. Eventually, the 33-year-old driver was extracted, placed on a backboard, and airlifted to a nearby hospital.

“That was scary,” Clint Bowyer said. “You hate to see anybody that you race against and know, know their kids and everything else, get cut out like that. It is scary for everybody.”

On Sunday, Richard Petty Motorsports announced Almirola had suffered a T5 compression fracture of his back. Even though he is expected to make a full recovery, this is a stark reminder of the dangers associated with his chosen profession.

Yes, drivers routinely escape injury from spectacular accidents. But to think it’s a given is a falsehood. Within NASCAR alone, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are among those who’ve had to miss multiple races in recent years because of injuries incurred while racing.

And there will be others. It’s inescapable. Because the harsh reality is, despite continued safety advancements, the risks can only be minimized so much. Almirola demonstrated that truth Saturday night.