Gibbs teams in position to contend at Bristol

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Joe Gibbs Racing’s trio of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch haven’t been able to break into Victory Lane so far this season. But judging from their pace this weekend, it appears that they’ll be in position to get on the board in 2014 during tomorrow’s Food City 500.

Bristole Motor Speedway has been good for JGR, which has won six of the last 10 races there. Additionally, in each of the last three years at Bristol, a JGR driver has won: Busch in 2011 (spring race), Hamlin in 2012 (night race), and Kenseth last year (night race).

And it looks like they’ll threaten to stretch their current streak into a fourth consecutive year. Hamlin’s track record pole run and relatively solid showings in practice this weekend (third in Practice 1, sixth in Practice 2) makes him a contender.

But Kenseth, already a three-time winner at Bristol, has also been steady this weekend after winding up 30th in the first practice session. He bounced back from that to qualify third yesterday, and was P4 and P2 in this morning’s two practice sessions.

Then there’s Busch, who has claimed five Bristol wins in his career (a feat his older brother, Kurt, also shares). “Rowdy” was forced to go to a backup car after damaging his primary in the first practice, but has still maintained good pace and will roll off from within the Top 10.

Here’s a few others that could be worth watching over tomorrow’s 500-lapper in Thunder Valley:

Ryan Newman (starting ninth)
Not a bad start for the Brickyard 400 champion at Richard Childress Racing (back-to-back Top-10s at Phoenix and Las Vegas), and he’s been toward the top in all of the practices (including P1 in the second session).

Kurt Busch (starting 13th)
If any track can help the Outlaw get in gear after a disappointing beginning to 2014, it’s Bristol. He’s been P1, P3, and P5 in the practices. Don’t be surprised to see him leading the Stewart-Haas armada tomorrow.

Kevin Harvick (starting 27th)
Track position will not be his friend to start, but he appears to have a good pace on the No. 4 car (Top-10 in the second and third practices). Good races can go ugly in an instant at Bristol, so he’ll have to be doubly concerned as he tries to move through the field.

Martin Truex, Jr. (starting 29th)
Like Harvick, Truex had a poor qualifying session but has been reasonably quick in practice (P9, P8, and P6). It’s been a slow start in his new environment at Furniture Row (25th in points after three races), so he needs a good run.

Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list; Musquin remains out

Shimoda injured
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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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.”