Friday 5: The Incredible Shrinking Driver

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Michael McDowell is known for his expertise on road courses but when he exited his car at Sonoma in June, the Front Row Motorsports driver physically didn’t feel good after his 21st-place finish.

“You always want to perform your best, so I wanted to change it up,” he told NBC Sports.

McDowell, who has always been among the bigger Cup drivers, switched to the Ketogenic diet, a low-carb, high-fat diet that makes the body more efficient at burning fat for energy.

“I’m looking at this nutritional plan, I’m like ‘Good God this can’t be good for you.’ I’m eating 100 grams of a fat a day and 25 grams of saturated fat,” said McDowell, whose typical breakfast features bacon and eggs instead of eating egg whites and no yolk.

McDowell admitted he thought “this in no way shape or form is going to give me more energy in the race car, but it sure has for me.”

It also has helped him lose more than 35 pounds since July.

McDowell said he weighed 238 pounds in an official NASCAR weigh-in for drivers at Daytona in July. McDowell was down to 200 pounds at a NASCAR weigh-in at Indianapolis in September and said last weekend at Kansas that he is down to 195 pounds.

Michael McDowell (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“Nothing fits anymore,” McDowell joked. “I have some of my old (drivers) suits. They look like pajamas.”

McDowell said the weight loss has been a benefit of the diet.

“The thought going into it wasn’t trying to dump a bunch of weight, it really wasn’t a diet as much as it was having sustainable energy in the race car and feeling good at the end of the hot, long races,” he said.

“The benefits of it have been great on all fronts from good stamina in the race car, good mental clarity throughout the day and through the race and probably the biggest thing has been recovery after the races.

“I would have a headache every time I would get out of the race car. I’ve had that for 10 years. When I switched to this Keto diet, when I get out I’m not hungry and I don’t have a headache after the race, which is a huge, huge deal.”

McDowell stresses he’s not a paid endorser of this diet and he’s still learning about it and how effective it can be for the long term. He’s working closely with his doctor and gets blood work done regularly to monitor how his body is handling the diet. McDowell said he’s focused on what he calls good fats and oils instead of just eating bacon cheeseburgers with this diet.

“For me, being at my best and not giving up anything is super important,” said McDowell, who has nine top-20 finishes this season. “I think the hardest part and most frustrating part of my career is it just has been hard to lose weight and eat enough to have the energy in the race car and now I’ve found a way to do both. That’s the biggest upside for me. Before if I tried to lose weight, I had to do it by cutting calories and cutting calories made me feel worse in the race car. It was a vicious cycle.”

2. What might have been

Erik Jones had an average finish of 5.3 in the second round of the playoffs — better than every playoff driver but Joey Logano, who also had a 5.3 average finish in the round — but Jones’ struggles in the opening round eliminated him from title contention.

After such a strong run in the second half, Jones is left to wonder what might have been.

Erik Jones (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“Our first round was kind of off the track,” said Jones, who was 40th at Las Vegas after he was collected in an incident with Kevin Harvick, finished 11th at Richmond and was 30th at the Charlotte Roval.

“It’s a bummer. I feel like we were better than some of the guys in the Round of 12 and had been better all year. That’s kind of how the playoffs go. Had we made it and ran like we did still, do we advance? Maybe. Probably.

“It’s frustrating to look at to think we could be sitting in the Round of 8 and coming up to some of my best tracks and in a pretty good spot possibly to Homestead with Texas and Phoenix on there, those are some of my favorite places.

“At the same time it’s encouraging to know we’ve got good speed. I think that momentum is going to carry into next year. I think the speed will as well. We’ll have to refocus and try it all over again.”

3. Woe is me at Martinsville

Only once in nine starts at Martinsville has Kyle Larson finished better than 14th. So what’s the issue?

“I think it’s definitely all me,” Larson said. “I feel like whenever we go to Martinsville and why we struggle it’s just a difficult place for me for whatever reason. Maybe we don’t have the best race car or set-up there, but I feel like I’m worse than what the potential of our car is. 

“(Chip Ganassi Racing teammate) Jamie (McMurray) has kind of fallen off maybe a little bit at Martinsville the last couple of years, but even when he was running well there, I was still running like 25th. I work really hard on trying to get better there and all that, but for whatever reason, I struggle, bad.”

4. Strong crowd

Chase Elliott’s win last weekend at Kansas Speedway puts him in elite category.

Elliott needed nine starts between his first three Cup wins. The only driver who needed fewer starts in the modern era (since 1972) between their first Cup victories was Tony Stewart. He needed seven starts. Elliott tied Bobby Labonte, who needed nine starts between his first three victories.

Kyle Busch is the youngest driver to score three Cup wins at 21 years, 2 months, 14 days. Elliott is next at 22 years, 10 months, 23 days. Richard Petty was third at 23 years, 2 months, 16 days.

5. Still searching

Martin Truex Jr. has the most wins (19) in Cup without scoring a short-track victory. He is winless in 77 career short-track starts. That’s more than any active driver except Jamie McMurray, who is winless in 95 career starts on a short track.

On the other hand, Kyle Busch has won five of the last eight short-track races.

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.