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 yoke.

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’s also 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 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.

Kaulig Racing hauler involved in accident on way to Kansas Speedway

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Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday night the hauler for its No. 10 team was involved in an accident on the way to Kansas Speedway for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

Team president Chris Rice said in a statement released on social media that Kaulig’s two drivers for the hauler were alert and had been transported to a hospital for evaluation.

According to 13 WLOS, the accident occurred around 5 p.m. ET, and a state trooper said the truck’s driver and passenger were taken to Mission Hospital by ambulance with serious but non-life threatening injuries.

According to told Fox Carolina, the North Carolina Highway Patrol said the hauler was traveling westbound on I-40 in McDowell County when it went off the right side of the road near mile marker 93. It went through a guard rail and down an embankment before stopping in the woods.

Rice said the team still planned to field two cars in Saturday’s race.

Ross Chastain is entered in the No. 10 Chevrolet this weekend for his fifth start of the year with the team. Chastain was announced Tuesday as the full-time driver of the car next season.

Kaulig also will field the No. 11 Chevy of Justin Haley in Saturday’s race.

Silly Season scorecard: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finds new home in JTG Daugherty Racing

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was without a 2020 Cup ride for less than 25 days.

Only a few weeks after Roush Fenway Racing announced it was parting ways with Stenhouse in favor of Chris Buescher, Stenhouse has landed in Buescher’s old ride at JTG Daugherty Racing in a multi-year deal.

Stenhouse will have Ryan Preece as a teammate in his first full-time year with a new team in a decade.

Here are where things stand with Silly Season:

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

JTG Daugherty Racing: It was announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Reece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher.

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Clint Bowyer His contract expires after this season with the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team. Take it whatever way you want but Bowyer stated Sept. 20 that he did a commercial shoot in September with Kevin Harvick for next season.

Kurt Busch His contract expires after this season. Car owner Chip Ganassi has suggested in media reports that a deal will be done. Busch declined to discuss much about his contract status before the Sept. 29 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, stating: “We haven’t really started talks. I felt like it was good to get the playoffs underway and go as far as we could comfortably. Man, there’s a lot going on and we’ll see how things play out. Again, it’s all about all the stars lining up with Chevrolet, Monster Energy, myself, Chip. For me, I feel like things haven’t progressed because of the focus on the playoffs.”

Daniel Suarez He has said that both he and the team have an option on his contract for next year. He has remained confident that he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 41 car.

Xfinity Series

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet.

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET with Jimmie Johnson

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Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is the guest of honor on this week’s episode of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths, which airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Johnson joins Marty Snider and Kyle Petty. Together they’ll discuss this week’s storylines and take fan phone calls.

You can call in at 844-NASCAR-NBC or reach out on Twitter via #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Tanner Gray to make Truck Series debut at Martinsville

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Former NHRA Pro Stock champion Tanner Gray will make his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut in the Oct. 26 race at Martinsville Speedway, DGR-Crosley announced Wednesday.

Gray, 20, will drive the No. 15 Toyota in the final three Truck Series races of the season.

This is Gray’s first season in NASCAR competition after also racing in super late models.

Gray competed full-time in the K&N Pro Series East this season for DGR-Crosley, where he earned one win, six top fives and nine top-10 finishes. He also claimed one pole on his way to finishing third in the point standings. He made three starts in the K&N West Series and earned two poles and three top fives.

MORE: Tanner Gray embracing NASCAR after drag racing career

“I’m excited to make the step up to the Truck Series,” Gray said in a press release. “I think it’s going to be challenging, but I’m ready to take the next step with my DGR-Crosley guys. We’ve been preparing for this all season, and I think the best way to learn is to go out and do it. Between testing and spending time in the Toyota simulator, I think I have a good feel for Martinsville and will be able to adapt quickly. We will have three practice sessions to get acclimated and get the truck where it needs to be. We just need to keep our nose clean in the race and have a solid day on pit road.”

Gray’s K&N team will make the transition to the Truck Series with him for the remainder of the season. Seth Smith will serve as crew chief duties while veteran Eddie D’Hondt will be his spotter.

“I’m really looking forward to Tanner’s Truck debut after the building season that he’s had,” Smith said in a press release. “He’s learned a lot from where he started at the beginning of the season to where he’s at now. We tested at Martinsville and I feel like we had a really successful test session.”