Chaos can ensue quickly and violently when multiple race cars operate at or near 200 mph, within inches of each other.
NASCAR drivers and fans know this, and were given a sobering reminder in Saturday’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick and Joey Logano were involved in a fiery three-car collision with 67 laps to go. It brought out the red flag as emergency workers had to cut the roof and roll cage to extract Almirola from his damaged car.
He was placed on a backboard and taken to a waiting ambulance after nearly 20 minutes and was then airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center for observation, according to the FS1 TV broadcast. Logano and Patrick were treated and released from the infield care center.
Richard Petty Motorsports provided an update on Almirola’s condition early Sunday morning, releasing the following statement: “Almirola was alert after the accident as safety professionals removed him from the car. He was transported by helicopter to a local medical facility for evaluation. He is in stable condition and will be held overnight for further observation.”
It started when a mechanical failure in Logano’s car forced him to turn left violently between turns one and two. Logano’s No. 22 bumped Patrick’s car from behind and sent her spinning into the wall nose-first as her car burst into flames.
Patrick’s car spun full circle and rode the SAFER barrier along with Logano’s car, but Almirola was unable to avoid the two disabled cars in front of him.
Almirola slammed into Logano with enough force to lift Almirola’s No. 43 car several feet in the air.
Logano and Patrick both saw the replay of the wreck for the first time while being interviewed for the broadcast, and shock overtook both of their faces.
“I’m just praying for Aric right now, that he’s going to be OK,” Logano said. “I didn’t see what happened to (Almirola) until then. Those things happen. You’re pushing race cars hard, and sometimes you have failures of parts or tires or whatever. I have no clue what it was, and the car’s probably too destroyed to figure out what it is, but when it went, it went,” Logano said. “That’s for sure.”
Drivers are asked to remain in their cars after wrecks, but Patrick got out of her burning car just moments after it finally came to a stop.
“The first hit was definitely sharp and hard, and there were a few more and I couldn’t see at that point in time, there was so much smoke,” Patrick said. “The fire came in, and I started unbuckling before I came to a stop. I’ve got 24 inches of locks coming off of my head here, and I don’t want it to catch on fire. I really wanted to get out of the car.”
Almirola’s car looked to have suffered the least amount of damage in the immediate aftermath of the collision.
“It’s a total fact in our sport,” Patrick said. “Some of the worst-looking accidents, drivers walk away. In the ones that don’t look as bad, they don’t. Whether it’s Aric in this accident, or Dale Earnhardt Sr., the ones that don’t look the worst can be. That’s the scary part. You’re playing Russian roulette, and at one point in time, something is going to affect you. I hope and pray that it does not happen, but you’re rolling the dice.”
It was one of the worst stock-car accidents in Kansas Speedway’s 17-year history.
Dale Jarrett was involved in a wreck during the inaugural race in 2001 at the 1.5-mile tri-oval and was hospitalized after being briefly knocked unconscious.
One year later, during the 2002 Cup race at Kansas, Sterling Marlin suffered a broken vertebra in his neck during a crash. He was the points leader at the time but was sidelined for the season after the accident.
The Star’s Tod Palmer contributed to this story.