Dale Earnhardt Jr. is set to make his 500th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tomorrow at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but after qualifying sixth last night, NASCAR’s most popular driver indicated that the accomplishment isn’t of much importance to him.
“It’s not that big of a milestone to me,” said Earnhardt, who will look to break through for his first career Sprint Cup win at Charlotte tomorrow (he won the non-points All-Star Race at CMS back in 2000).
“I just hope I’m around for at least 250 or 500 more [races]. I’ve really been blessed to have the opportunity to do what I do. I feel thankful every weekend to be able to get in some of the best cars in the series – I really mean that from my heart. It’s truly been a dream career for me and I never took it for granted that I would be driving race cars all my life and be able to make a living doing it.
“I’m real thankful and it makes me reflect on that kind of thing.”
Earnhardt, one of the Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders, has been on a good streak lately, with finishes of sixth, second and eighth in his last three races. However, an engine failure in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway last month has put him in a hole he’s yet to climb out of, as he sits eighth in the standings at 54 points behind Matt Kenseth.
Needless to say, his championship hopes are ebbing. But he can certainly help them out with a victory tomorrow at the track where he made his Cup debut in 1999 (started 8th, finished 16th).
A win would make him the third driver in Cup history to triumph in his 500th career start. Matt Kenseth’s win last month at New Hampshire enabled him to join seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty in that very exclusive club.
Bad news continues to come out of the Monster Energy / Pro Circuit Kawasaki team as they announced Jo Shimoda injured his shoulder in a practice session and will not mount up when the Monster Energy Supercross 250 East division opens in Houston, Texas on February 4. A timetable has not been given for Shimoda’s return, but a press release from the team references multiple weeks.
“I’m doing my best to focus forward on my return to racing,” said Shimoda in the release. “Our goal was to compete for the 250 Supercross Eastern Regional Championship and I know we had been doing the right work to make that happen. Unfortunately, this crash will cause me to miss the start of the season, but I still aim to be back on the track racing for wins before the end of Supercross.”
Shimoda is joined on the sidelines by teammates Seth Hammaker and Austin Forkner, who also suffered injuries in recent weeks.
The news of Hammaker’s sidelining came just two days ago. His wrist injury is sufficient to require surgery, so he too will miss multiple weeks. Hammaker was scheduled to compete in the 250 East division alongside Shimoda.
Forkner was involved in a Lap 1 crash in the 250 West season opener at Anaheim. Multiple injuries, including an ACL tear, will sideline him for the remainder of the season. He described the injury and its aftermath on Instagram.
Forkner will be relieved by Carson Mumford, but not before that rider’s wrist has healed sufficiently. He is scheduled to debut with Kawasaki in Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 Supercross race on February 18.
Shimoda finished fourth in the 2022 Supercross 250 West division and was second in 2021 points in 250 East. In 2021, Shimoda won his first Supercross race at Salt Lake City. Last year, he scored one podium and six top-fives in nine starts.
Shimoda finished second in last year’s outdoor Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season, where he added two more SuperMotocross wins including the Unadilla Nationals that kicked off a four-race streak of first- or second-place results.
Kawasaki is not the only team facing injury. Red Bull KTM initially reported Marvin Musquin would be out for the San Diego round with a wrist injury and “maybe more”. This week it was announced he will miss this week’s Triple Crown race in Anaheim and “at least the next several rounds.”