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.”

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.”