Denny Hamlin: Expect groove to widen as race goes on

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Driver introductions are now underway at Bristol Motor Speedway, where track drying continues in hopes of NASCAR being able to start the Food City 500 relatively soon.

The morning rains have delayed the start by some 90 minutes now and washed all the rubber off of the high-banked half-mile. Still, pole sitter Denny Hamlin expects to see a groove widen out toward the top of the track as the race progresses.

“You’re gonna see the track not rubber up as much as we had it during ‘Happy Hour’ simply because the sun’s not out and the temperature’s not up,” he explained to Fox Sports during the rain delay. “But the rubber will lay down enough to where the groove will start widening out, and eventually, it will get to where the Nationwide cars were and probably even higher.

“Talking to my [Joe Gibbs Racing] teammates yesterday, they said it kind of got to where it was a few years ago when they were always running the top and it was the fastest. But with this [Sprint Cup] car, with the downforce and this tire – I think on the lower line, we’ll be able to pass a little bit easier than it has in the past. But you’ll still see a fight for the top after halfway.”

Hamlin, a past Bristol winner, believes that his No. 11 JGR Toyota will be strong either low or high on the Bristol banking.

“We didn’t really pay any lap time penalty [in practice] by going to the top or going to the bottom,” he added. “That’s the key for us. We feel like if you’re gonna pass, get through lapped traffic and gain positions, you’re gonna need to move around and have a car that can do that.”

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.