Off weekend provides another chance for NASCAR drivers to compete in triathlon

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A weekend off is just another chance for Landon Cassill and Josh Wise to race.

While fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors relax on a beach, some other exotic locale or at home this weekend, Cassill and Wise will compete in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Austria.

There will be little time for sightseeing, even though this is Cassill’s first trip to Europe.

The race, held Sunday and shown on NBCSN later this year, is half the distance of a full Ironman triathlon with a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run.

Cassill’s path to this event traces back to Canada and includes stops in Kentucky and Indiana.

He attempted to qualify for the world championship in June at Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, Canada, but his time of 4 hours, 47 minutes – hindered by cramping during the run – was not good enough to do so. Wise and Cassill’s dad each qualified for Austria at that event.

That led to Cassill competing in a half Ironman the day of the Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in July. He drove in the Xfinity race the night before, flew to Muncie, Ind., got a couple of hours of sleep, competed in the event and then drove in the Cup race that night, finishing 28th.

His time of 4:36.44 at Muncie – a personal best – placed him high enough to qualify for the world championships, which is expected to have about 2,700 athletes from more than 70 countries.

Cassill says that if he can finish in 4:30, he believes he could place in the top 75. Another goal is to be in the top 20 after the swim because he says that has been his strong point. He’s hoping to run the half marathon in about 90-95 minutes.

Workout regimens have become more important for many drivers, with Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne among those having participated in triathlons along with Cassill and Wise.

“Triathlon is my hobby,’’ Cassill said. “I’m not getting on the bike and thinking, ‘OK this is going to help me at Bristol.’ In fact, probably quite the opposite, ‘This is probably going to help me for Austria or this is why I’m doing this for my next triathlon.’ ‘’

Cassill says he notices the benefits of training for triathlons in the car – particularly with his heart rate.

While he’s had heart monitors record spikes of 160 or more heartbeats a minute in the car, Cassill says that his heart rate is typically around 120 beats a minute during a long green-flag run and around 140 during more stressful points.

“When I started seeing that stuff, it was a little bit of validation for me this endurance stuff is good,’’ he said.

He said there were points in the Coca-Cola 600 where his heart rate hovered between 115-125 beats a minute – “really low,’’ he said – and that was before he ran 14 miles after the race from Charlotte Motor Speedway to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte, N.C.

What’s next for Cassill after this weekend’s event?

He’s been invited to participate in the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Chicago on Sept. 17 – three days before the Sprint Cup series races at Chicagoland Speedway.

That sprint event features a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike segment and a 5-kilometer run. More than 8,000 athletes are expected to compete in that event over four days, including several Olympic-caliber athletes.