Mark McCarter: Racing gods are often unkind; just ask Almirola, Danica

Mark McCarter: Racing gods are often unkind; just ask Almirola, Danica

May 18th, 2017 by Mark McCarter in Sports - Nascar

NASCAR driver Aric Almirola is loaded into an ambulance after a crash during last Saturday's Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway. He suffered a fractured vertebra and is out indefinitely.

Photo by Colin E. Braley

"Hahaha! I didn't hit a thing!"

That was NASCAR driver Aric Almirola on his in-car radio, having gleefully dodged the massive backstretch wreck in the Cup Series race May 7 at Talladega Superspeedway. Cars collided all about him, but he escaped without a ding.

Almirola has been racing long enough to know better. Don't tease the racing gods with that sort of hubris.

Last Saturday night, Almirola hit something. Hit it hard. Having lost control of his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford at Kansas Speedway, he plowed into the cars of Joey Logano and Danica Patrick, who had wrecked when a part broke on Logano's car.

Almirola suffered a compression fracture in his back and will be sidelined indefinitely. On Wednesday, RPM announced that Regan Smith will be the replacement driver for Almirola this weekend in All-Star competition at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Smith has 10 years and more than 200 races of Cup Series experience, though he hasn't run in the top-tier circuit this year. He has competed in four Camping World Truck Series races in 2017.

As for the racing gods, they seem to have Patrick targeted much more than Almirola — so much so, it wouldn't be surprising if her retirement is imminent.

She had violent wrecks in back-to-back weeks, having also torn up her car at Talladega. And she has had other frightening wrecks, most notably a 2012 crash at Daytona International Speedway into a spot where a SAFER barrier had just been placed prior to Speedweeks and which may well have saved her life. (Interestingly, the crash happened after she was bumped by Almirola.)

Patrick has been in four wrecks this year after being involved in seven crashes the previous season and a half. Obviously not all of those had the violence of the Kansas wreck, nor am I suggesting they were her fault.

"I just don't understand why such bad luck happens. I was having a really good night, and that's what made me the most mad," she said at Kansas.

Growing introspective, Patrick said, "One of these times these accidents aren't going to go good for me. I've been very fortunate so far."

Though she has never won a NASCAR race, her fame transcends the sport unlike any other driver. Those who make decisions for Fox and NBC would run over their grandmothers with dump trucks full of money trying to get Patrick on their broadcast teams.

Here's what Ricky Craven, the former driver who is now an ESPN analyst, said about Patrick's comments after her latest crash: "I understood why she said what she said. This young lady has had more big impacts in the last five years than any driver I know, and your body can only sustain so much. Your body, at some point, goes, 'Look, I can't take it anymore.' I wonder if Danica is going to be thinking deep on this circumstance."

Patrick has shown plenty of courage since making the jump from the IndyCar Series. She has adapted better to the NASCAR culture than many expected. She has not been afraid to stand her ground, and she has kept buckling up, week after week, despite crashes.

It may be her most courageous move yet to say she has had all she can take after five years of full-time Cup Series competition, to stop tempting the racing gods, to walk away with her health and into a new chapter.

  •  Last race: Martin Truex Jr. won the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway, a year after a tiny mechanical problem cost him a win in the spring race there.
  •  Next race: Monster Energy All-Star Race, Charlotte Motor Speedway, 6 p.m. EDT Saturday, FS1 TV. It's a gimmick-filled, non-points-yielding evening.
  •  Pick to win: Kyle Busch.
  •  Pit notes: As if the race weren't already long enough, the May 28 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte will have a third segment added to it. NASCAR maintains that stage racing has added more excitement since being introduced this season, and this will break the monotony of the long race. Teams have the option to use a softer tire in the All-Star race. It will increase speeds, but the durability remains a question mark. Look for a lot of memory lane laps this weekend. It will mark the 25th anniversary of the first night-time All-Star race, when Davey Allison slipped past Kyle Petty on a dramatic finish, then wrecked and had to spend the night in the hospital.
  •  Fast Five: 1. Brad Keselowski, 2. Truex, 3. Jimmie Johnson, 4. Kyle Larson, 5. Logano.
  •  What they're saying: "She's a pretty tough old bird, I'll give her that." — Chase Elliott on Patrick

Contact Mark McCarter at markfmccarter@gmail.com.

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