Photo: Jimmie Johnson

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

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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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Natalie Decker recovering from gallbladder surgery

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Natalie Decker, a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver, is recovering after undergoing surgery to have her gallbladder removed.

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Decker, who raced for DGR-Crosley in 2019, posted on Instagram Wednesday about what led to the surgery, including problems with her gallbladder the kept her from taking arthritis medication.

“Hi everyone now that I have had the surgery to remove my gallbladder I will share the whole story!” Decker said. “I have been not being able to eat much food and have been in so much pain every time I eat we went through lots of testing like upper endoscopy and gallbladder function test! They finally figured it out and my gallbladder wasn’t functioning right! I had to get my gallbladder removed before I could go back on my Arthritis medication. I’m so thankful everything went very well!”

Decker, 22, made 19 starts in 2019. Her best finish was 13th in the spring Las Vegas race.

John Hunter Nemechek joins Front Row Motorsports’ 2020 driver lineup

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John Hunter Nemechek will join Michael McDowell as a full-time driver at Front Row Motorsports for the 2020 Cup season, the team announced Thursday, confirming it will retract to two cars.

Nemechek will drive the No. 38 Ford, taking over the seat held by David Ragan before his retirement. He will work with crew chief Seth Barbour.

McDowell will continue to drive the No. 34 Ford.

Nemechek competed in the final three Cup races of 2019, substituting for Matt Tifft in the No. 36 Ford following his seizure at Martinsville Speedway in October. Tifft parted ways with the team in order to focus on his health.

Nemechek, the son of Joe Nemechek, joins a rookie class that includes Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Brennan Poole.

“I’m thrilled for the opportunity to drive for Bob Jenkins and Front Row Motorsports,” Nemechek said in a press release. “Having driven the last three races with this team in 2019, I feel like we already have a foundation to start the 2020 season. I’m looking forward to continuing to build FRM.”

Nemechek, 22, competed full-time in the Xfinity Series in 2019 driving for GMS Racing. He finished seventh in the standings after earning six top fives and 19 top-10 finishes. He has six Truck Series wins in 99 starts since 2013.

McDowell returns for his third full-time season with Front Row.

“As an organization, we have made a lot of strides with the help of all our partners of our program,” McDowell said in the press release. “I’m ready to build on that momentum with (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer). and the rest of our team. We’ve always had steady growth and I think we’re going to continue to see that next season.”

Said team owner Bob Jenkins: “We are looking to the future with a young talent like John Hunter Nemechek. John Hunter impressed us at the end of last season, he comes from a racing family, and he’s a winning driver. We believe that we can grow with him in the years to come.”

 

Nashville Fairgrounds in negotiations with new race promoter

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While the city of Nashville reviews a new proposal from Speedway Motorsports, Inc, the Nashville Fairgrounds have entered negotiations with a potential track promoter for Fairground Speedway’s 2020 season, The Tennessean reported Wednesday.

The newspaper reported that the Fairgrounds is negotiating with Track Enterprises to promote at least three races at short track.

The development comes a month after the Fair Board voted to terminate its contract with Formosa Productions over outstanding debt.

Fairgrounds spokesperson Holly McCall told The Tennessean that it was approached by Track Enterprises’ Bob Sargent about being involved in races on the short track next year.

Sargent has a history with the track, having promoted ARCA races there for roughly five years, according to The Tennessean.

Speedway Motorsports, which had previously struck a deal with Formosa Productions looking to bring NASCAR racing back to the track, had announced a $60 million renovation proposal in May.

A spokesperson for Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who was elected in September, told The Tennessean it was reviewing a new proposal from SMI.

McCall told The Tennessean the Fairgrounds had not yet received a new plan from SMI.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor Cooper during NASCAR’s Champion’s Week in Nashville. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

 

Martin Truex Jr. on Cole Pearn’s departure, what he seeks in next crew chief

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. got a phone call from Cole Pearn on Sunday and Truex quickly had a very bad feeling about it.

“When he started talking it was in the back of my mind that, ‘This is not good. I feel like something big is about to come,'” Truex recalled. “Sure enough, it was surprising.”

Pearn had called to tell Truex what everyone else would learn the next day: after five years together, he was resigning as his crew chief and leaving NASCAR.

Truex discussed the end of Pearn’s tenure and what he wants from his next crew chief during a break from giving out Christmas toys to patients at Levine Children’s Hospital.

“Thought I could get a couple more years out of him, to be honest,” Truex said before admitting he completely understood Pearn’s reasons for getting out of NASCAR while seemingly at the top of his game: a long season that keeps him from seeing his family.

“I understand the grind, I understand just how hard he has to work to produce a level of competition that he does,” Truex said. “I’ve seen it first hand, his hours and what’s he’s willing to do. I don’t know that there’s anyone in the garage willing to put as much work into racing as he did.”

He continued: “It’s time for him to move into doing something else. His kids are growing up too fast and he doesn’t get to see them that much. It was big decision for him and I know … he feels somewhat like he let all us down. I told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do what’s best for your family, we all understand and all our guys will understand, we’ll go on and try to the best with someone else filling his role.'”

When it comes to figuring who will take over as crew chief on the No. 19 Toyota, Truex said, “We’ve got a few guys in mind. I feel like we’re narrowing it down. We should know something in the next couple of days for sure.”

Whoever takes over will follow in the wake of a crew chief who worked with Truex to produce 24 wins in five seasons, four appearances in the Championship 4 and the 2017 Cup title.

How did half a decade of success with Pearn change what Truex wants from a crew chief?

“Honestly, that’s a good question,” Truex said. “Obviously, I need to find somebody that has his demeanor, a guy that approaches racing the way he does, because it’s kind of what works for me. I feel like we approach racing the same way, Cole and I did. Our attitudes and just the way we thought about things was so similar. We could almost finish each other’s sentences.

“It’s so weird, we’re so different people outside of racing. In racing, that’s just the way we grew up. Our dads racing and racing go-karts and moving up through the ranks ourselves. We just did things a lot the same and we had similar beliefs in the way we did things. Just kind of the same thought process.”

Truex believes he and Pearn “approached a lot of things together more so than me being a rookie and him being a veteran like it was when I first started.

“No question, he was really good at getting the most out of me and I’ll need somebody to do that,” Truex said. “I’m not the most outspoken guy and so I need sometimes somebody to pull that information out of me, especially when it comes to the cars and building the cars. When they’re not good enough, how do you make them better? He was really good at that. I feel good about the guys we’re talking to and we’ve got a few options there and hopefully it’ll work out.”