My Brain on NASCAR: Almirola

Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott

By Cathy Elliott

It bugs me more than a little bit that, prior to the recent Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, most of us never gave much more than a passing thought to Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola, if we ever thought about him at all.

That all changed on May 13 when, rather than enjoying racing under the lights at Kansas, we watched Almirola being cut out of his mangled car, strapped to a backboard and airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center. The incident was the result of a fiery, terrifying collision which also involved Joey Logano and Danica Patrick.

What bothers me the most is the reaction that most of us probably had as we watched the aftermath of the wreck: “He’ll be OK.” It seems we have become so inured to watching drivers walk away unscathed from horrific accidents – usually the most exciting part of any race – that we take it for granted they’re going to be fine.

Thankfully, this was true in Almirola’s case, more or less. The hospital kept him overnight for observation, then released him with a diagnosis of a compression fracture to the T5 vertebra. He is currently recovering at his home in North Carolina, and according to an RPM press release, his driving status has yet to be determined.

There’s never a good time to be cut out of a car, but from a professional viewpoint, the incident was particularly unfortunate for Almirola. He’s been having a pretty good year. Prior to the Kansas race, he was 23rd in the Cup Series standings, just 62 points outside of the current cutoff with 17 races left in the regular season. He has posted a pair of fourth-place finishes this year, at Daytona and Talladega.

As they always seem to do, things really got interesting when the drivers involved were asked the literal burning question after being checked out and released from the infield care center – What happened? 

It depends on who you ask.

“Something broke on my car, I don’t know what it was,” Logano said. “Everything was fine but then my car just took a hard right. I tried to back it off but you’re going 215 and it’s hard to check up. The car just took a step sideways into the corner and I hooked Danica … I just hope everyone is okay. That’s the last thing you want to see, a big hit like that for anyone. It’s unfortunate for everyone. I hope that Aric is all right.”

Logano then tweeted the following:  “Prayers for @aric_almirola that he is okay,” along with the praying hands emoji.

While one driver was focused on praying hands, another chose to point the finger.

“All I know is that I all of a sudden crashed. I definitely had a feeling it was — and I am sure that the doctors in the medical center checking my neurological abilities are glad to know I was right — that it was Joey,” said Patrick. “When he said he had a failure, I can’t say it made me feel that much better in the moment. I am just frustrated for the lack of breaks I get. It seems like every time things are going better and something happens I get crashed or am in a crash.”

Like Logano, Patrick also took to Twitter, with the following comment: “Great night that ended really bad. Grateful for walking away, and hope Aric is OK … but my heart is breaking from this bad luck.”

This remark has drawn quite a bit of criticism from those who feel it runs the gamut of negativity from self-involved to utterly insensitive. So much for compassion and concern for a fellow competitor, right?

Personally, my comment on Patrick’s comment involves not a single word, just a really big sigh … which should tell you all you need to know.

Cathy Elliott is the former public relations director at Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, Desktop 500, and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough to Tame. Contact her at

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