NASCAR’s cycling craze grows but not every driver ready to wear spandex

Photo: Jimmie Johnson
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Clint Bowyer laughs at the latest craze in the NASCAR Cup garage.

Cycling.

“It’s just a fad,’’ Bowyer told NBC Sports. “It’s just like anything else, I mean, it really is. It’s so funny.

“I go to the shop and I see all these bikes hanging on the bike rack and we’re talking three, four, five thousand dollar bikes sitting there that you know damn well, they’re not going to be riding for long. Nobody enjoys that. So it’s a fad.

“It’s going to go away, and that’s when you’ll be able to pick up a good deal on a really nice bike and go through the fad yourself. But there’s no way in hell I would ever let anyone see me in that spandex.’’

That’s what Dale Earnhardt Jr. thought. He hitched a ride in a vehicle through the Atlanta Motor Speedway infield earlier this season before getting on his bike outside the track so no one would see him in spandex.

Now, Earnhardt enjoys cycling, promotes it and doesn’t mind being seen in spandex.

“I didn’t like working out at a gym, running on a treadmill, all that stuff’s real boring,’’ Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “Couldn’t really find anything that I liked to do. And so I picked up cycling. It’s a lot of fun.

“We go out and ride at all the stops on the NASCAR circuit, and we see part of the country that we … never take the time to see. It’s really beautiful. And it doesn’t feel like working out. It doesn’t feel like an exercise. We’re just cruising along on our bikes.

“We’ll ride for an hour-and-a-half or two hours, it goes by pretty quick. There’s never any moment in the experience where I’m going, ‘Man, how much longer do we got?’ And you’ll ride 20 to 30 miles, get off the bike, you’ll burn 800-1000 calories in a two-hour period, and you’ve had fun. And you feel great!’’

Earnhardt is among many drivers in the Cup garage cycling. They include Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne.

Road cycling has evolved in the sport. Drivers and crew members previously went mountain biking to get their exercise.

“We used to meet on Tuesday afternoons all the time and ride and you got to meet a lot of new people, and then it kind of expanded (from) there to riding road bikes,’’ Kenseth said of he and crew chief Jason Ratcliff.

“It’s a good way to get out of the motorhome on the weekends and see a lot of the different areas around the race track that I never really explored before and keeps you in great shape.’’

While they’re not on the level of Tour de France riders (NBCSN’s coverage continues at 6 a.m. Wednesday with Stage 17), it’s still about being in shape in the car. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 90s this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The high for Sunday’s race (3 p.m., NBC) is expected to be 89 degrees, making it among the warmest temperatures for a race this season.

Cycling, along with the rest of his workouts, helps Johnson with handling such conditions and more.

“I’ve learned a lot of great things from a nutrition and hydration standpoint to take to the car, and some probably know I’m pretty sensitive to hydration,’’ Johnson told NBC Sports. “I’ve had some issues over the years, and I’m thankful that I have this knowledge because I think I would have many more episodes, but truthfully there is so much more from a mental aspect. Learning to fight for something, the discipline it takes to stay fit at a high level.

“It’s a very stressful job and to get on the bike and be with my friends and socialize and stay fit has been good on a lot of levels. Not just the obvious physical ones.’’

Some drivers have taken their bike riding further. Johnson, Kenseth and McMurray rode in a 102.7-mile bike race in May from South Carolina to Mt. Mitchell, which at 6,684 feet is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, in Western North Carolina. McMurray finished in 5 hours, 58 minutes. Johnson rode with former Tour de France racer George Hincappie and both finished at 6:01. Kenseth completed the ride in 6:32.

Still, not everyone is sold on cycling, like Bowyer and Ryan Newman.

“I don’t quite get those guys and the amount of money they spend on whatever it is, a 32-ounce bicycle, when all they’ve got to do is just go on Craigslist and get a Schwinn or something like that and pedal half the distance and twice as hard and get better workouts,’’ Newman said.

“I offered back at Talladega weekend to get a Moped and cut the air for Kenseth and those guys just to kind of give them a little draft, some drafting partners, you know? But, they haven’t taken me up on it. So, I’ve just been enjoying fishing and a little bit of the outdoors. My workouts consist more of doing physical activities and sweating than paying money for a bicycle just to coast downhill.’’

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