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Josh Wise is Chip Ganassi Racing’s human optimizer

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At some point in the past two years Josh Wise had to say it out loud.

He wasn’t a professional race car driver anymore.

But what is he now?

“Man, I don’t know. I struggle with titles,” Wise says while sitting in a conference room at Chip Ganassi Racing’s shop.

It turns out the 35-year-old Wise is the driver performance manager for CGR’s NASCAR operations. That’s a vague title covering the work Wise has done “optimizing humans” for the team over the last two years and that now stretches to drivers like Noah Gragson and Brett Moffitt.

But Wise has other titles that tell the story of how he became a man who molds the eating, workout and driving habits of NASCAR drivers.

Former Professional Race Car Driver

Wise concedes the end of his NASCAR career, which lasted 10 years and 318 starts, was “not very romantic” compared to Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr.

His last start came on Nov. 6, 2016 in the Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 30 Chevrolet for The Motorsports Group, he started and finished last. His car was parked after 257 of 293 laps due to an electrical issue.

Josh Wise during his final season in the Cup Series in 2016. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“I was really tired of racing the way that I was having to race,” Wise says of the time, which capped off a two-year stretch of dissatisfaction. “I grew up racing with just a tremendous amount of passion and love for the sport.

“The thing that I enjoyed about it was being able to push myself to limits beyond what I thought I was capable of. The position I was in as a race car driver at that point in my career wasn’t that … It just wasn’t that fun anymore.”

Wise now finds himself dedicated to a job that’s led him to say no to offers to race.

“I’ve actually turned them down because I haven’t wanted to blur the lines between wanting to be a race car driver anymore and doing what I’m doing now,” Wise says. “I really have no desire to be a race car driver anymore.”

But he had to say it out loud.

“I think at that point I told my wife (Ashley), I was like, ‘Hey, I’m done,’ ” Wise says. “She kind of knows when I draw a pretty distinct line when I say things like that. I have a bit of a switch I flip in my mind and I’m able to focus on another direction pretty efficiently.”

Iron Man

The path to Wise letting go of his racing identity began roughly a decade ago when he took part in his first Iron Man competition.

At the time, Wise was not the poster boy for driver fitness.

“I was amazed because I was a guy who had never run more than three miles in my life,” Wise says. “I had started cycling. I didn’t know how to swim. The first time I swam in a pool I didn’t make it across the pool one time before I had to stop.”

He began training himself to swim 2.5 miles, bike 112 miles and run a marathon without a break. He qualified for and competed in the Iron Man World championships in Zell am See-Kaprun, Austria, in 2015 with Landon Cassill.

During this period, Wise found himself consulted by other drivers for fitness advice. Wise trained with Jimmie Johnson, helped Trevor Bayne prepare for his own Iron Man event and worked with Erik Jones, who was racing in Xfinity at the time.

Wise became “fascinated” with the human body, its adaptability, the “fitness benchmarks” and “sensory demands” it needs to handle to process information and make decisions.

As he sought answers, the door to Wise’s future opened at the track where he made his last start. Walking through the garage at Texas Motor Speedway, he ran into Max Jones, CGR’s managing director of NASCAR operations and an acquaintance.

Wise told Jones about what he was pursuing. Jones then invited him to make a presentation to the team.

“I really just presented my philosophy and my foundation for what I was doing already and what I had hoped to build and what I thought I could bring to the table for their drivers,” Wise said. “We basically had made a commitment by the time I walked out of the room.”

Human Optimizer

Wise entered the 2018-19 offseason after two years with Ganassi.

Two seasons of controlling the exercise routines, diets and race prep for drivers.

Two years of “optimizing humans.”

That optimization helped result in four Cup wins for Kyle Larson and 11 wins in the Xfinity Series from five different drivers: Larson, Ross Chastain, John Hunter Nemechek, Tyler Reddick and Alex Bowman.

What has Wise subjected his drivers to?

Food

Let’s start with trips to the grocery store.

“If there’s something in packages, I tell them no more than five ingredients and you better be able understand what every ingredient is in there,” says Wise. “Other than that, it’s all fruits, vegetables and meats as close to coming right off the animal as we can get them.”

That includes making farm-to-table restaurants a frequent destination for Ganassi teams on the road.

According to Nemechek – who has documented that he’s willing to eat grass –  one food Wise has imparted on his drivers is avocado on toast with jelly.

“That’s probably a pretty weird one,” Wise says. “It’ll blow your mind, but a good kind of whole grain toast with avocado and strawberry jelly is one of the tastiest, odd things that most people would ever try. Other than that, it just depends on what they’ve been exposed to. There’s some things that maybe I don’t what to share that I have them try that are a little bit unorthodox.”

Chastain, who was set to drive for Ganassi in the Xfinity Series in 2019 before that operation closed due to lack of sponsorship, described how Wise encourages his drivers to introduce themselves to an unusual eating pallet.

“(Wise says to) pretend you’re in the forest, and you’re going to eat all this stuff that you find and then you’re going to eat some salmon,” Chastain says. “There’s blueberries and strawberries and spinach and all this stuff and kale. Me being a (watermelon) farmer, (I ask) ‘What forest are you in? This is some enchanted forest and I want to go there and grow watermelons there because it sounds like anything can grow there.’ ”

Exercise

Among the Ganassi drivers, “everybody’s different” when it comes to a Wise-directed workout regimen.

“It’s a combination of my opinion on where they’re at in a certain area, their opinion on where they’re at in a certain area, what type of time constraints we have, what types of goals we have, what performance is showing we need,” Wise says. “Because in the end we’ve got to create on-track performance.”

He used Larson as an example on where opinions and scheduling come in to play.

“While I might think that Kyle needs to work out more, Kyle’s racing sprint cars all summer and Kyle needs to focus on recovery and Kyle needs to focus on watching video,” Wise says. “So to take resources away from that to say ‘you’ve got to run 6 miles,’ you can easily let ego make things counter productive.”

One driver who is willing to run 6 miles – and then some – is Nemechek.

Nemechek, who will compete for GMS Racing in 2019, frequently documents his running habits on social media.

In early December, he and Wise “felt guilty” after McMurray took part in a marathon.

Their solution? Run 16 miles through a very cold Davidson, North Carolina.

“Sixteen miles might be a little bit over the top,” Nemechek told Fox Sports. “But it takes about two hours to run if you’re really digging. Our races are normally, two, two-and-half-hours. … Granted it was cold, so that really didn’t help the fundamental of being hot in a race car, but still the endurance aspect is really huge.”

Eye Tracking

Reaction time is everything in auto racing, with drivers having to navigate close quarters and avoid accidents in a blink-of-an-eye.

Wise wants to help slow things down for drivers and Ganassi’s pit crews.

He used a driving simulator to highlight the significance of a driver’s vision.

“I could turn off the sound and they could go out and they could probably run a lap time,” Wise says. “Then I could turn the sound on and they’ll probably go run about the same lap time. I could turn off the feel in the steering wheel and they’ll probably go run the same lap time.”

But once you start tinkering with a driver’s visual inputs, “You’re not going to make a lap,” Wise says.

With this in mind, Wise turned to eye tracking.

Eye tracking involves a digital board that lights up with green and red dots. You touch the green dots and avoid the red ones.

The program is a product of Tobii Pro.

Tobii Pro

There are physical exercises that are also done in relation to eye tracking.

“One set would consist of something at a computer which takes a minute or two minutes and then you go and do a physical activity,” McMurray said in early 2018. “They’re not like normal exercises. You get tired and you do it again. It’s interesting. It’s hard. It’s very mind exhausting. It’s one of those things (where) you’re exhausted when it’s over and you haven’t done anything.”

McMurray, who was the oldest driver under Ganassi’s NASCAR umbrella last year at 42, actually found the eye tracking reassuring.

“I was concerned about that because I was the oldest,” McMurray said. “It just so happened that I happened to have the best eyes of all the group as far as just the typical eye chart. But there were some things that Kyle was really good at that I wasn’t at. There were some things Tyler was good at. Everyone had strengths. It was kind of good to see what are your weaknesses.”

Wise emphasizes that everything from a “decision-making and application standpoint” for a driver comes from “visual inputs.”

“All the other things are really supplementing that foundation,” Wise says. “The better that I can make them see, the better I can help them make decisions based on vision, the better the foundation they have as an athlete.”

Student-Teacher

Anyone who pays attention to Chip Ganassi’s personal Twitter account knows he likes winners.

Whether it’s with Josh Wise and Jamie McMurray in NASCAR or Dario Franchitti in IndyCar, Ganassi puts a premium on experienced drivers remaining involved in his race teams.

In 2018, that included six Xfinity Series wins and a fifth IndyCar championship with Scott Dixon.

“I think anytime you have guys that are current in the sport it’s an opportunity,” Ganassi said. “That is what guys like Josh or Dario or Jamie can bring.

“They are the most current guys that are maybe not driving for one reason or another and that is something that is invaluable in a team organization. You are constantly building this book of information and you are constantly tapping this book of knowledge or building it. You have another head in the room. It doesn’t have to be much, just one little piece of advice or one little tidbit of information can be invaluable on a race weekend.”

Wise has no intention of becoming stagnant in his one-man quest for human optimization. He plans to complete an online degree in specialized sports psychology from Capella University in the spring or summer.

“Just checking the boxes on meeting the needs for these athletes. It’s all I care about, really,” Wise says. “I want to be someone that I wish I had when I was doing this.”

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Here is what upcoming NASCAR Cup races fans can attend

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Wednesday saw NASCAR announce the remaining regular season schedule for all three national series, including six Cup Series races.

In total, 10 Cup points races and the All-Star Race remain in the regular season, beginning with Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, not all tracks are allowing fans to attend.

Here are the fan policies for the remainder of the Cup Series regular season.

Kentucky Speedway (Sunday)

Fans will not be allowed to attend.

 

All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (July 15)

Up to 30,000 fans will be allowed to attend the race.

 

Texas Motor Speedway (July 19)

Fans making up to 50% of the track’s capacity will be allowed to attend.

 

Kansas Speedway (July 23)

Fans will not be able to attend.

 

New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Aug. 2)

Roughly 19,000 fans will be able to attend.

 

Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 8-9)

Fans will not be able to attend.

 

Daytona International Speedway (Aug. 16 and Aug. 29)

“We’re working towards having fans and hopefully we’ll have some news on when we’re going to go on sale in the next couple of days,” said track president Chip Wile Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

 

Dover International Speedway (Aug. 22 – 23)

Speedway officials remain in consultation with local, state and federal health officials, as well as Delaware Gov. John Carney, on whether fans will be allowed in the stands with appropriate social distancing for the August events.

Weekend schedule for Kentucky Speedway

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NASCAR heads to the Bluegrass State this week for four days of racing at Kentucky Speedway.

All three national series will be in action, plus the ARCA Menards Series, for five races. The Xfinity Series will hold two races for its second doubleheader of the season.

According to wunderground.com, the forecast for the start of each race is:

Thursday Xfinity race: Partly cloudy, 86 degrees and a 20% chance of rain.

Friday Xfinity race: Scattered thunderstorms, 80 degrees and 37% chance of rain.

Saturday Truck Series race: Partly cloudy, 86 degrees and 0% chance of rain.

Sunday Cup race: Scattered thunderstorms, 84 degrees, 40% chance of rain.

Here is the full weekend schedule for Kentucky Speedway.

(All times are Eastern)

Wednesday, July 8

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 – 7:30 p.m. – Driver motorhome parking (screening in progress)

Thursday, July 9

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening in progress)

1 – 10:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access (screening in progress)

6 – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

7:50 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

8 p.m. – Xfinity race No. 1; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Friday, July 10

10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access (screening in progress)

Noon – ARCA driver/crew chief/spotter meeting (electronic communication)

12:30 p.m. – ARCA rookie meeting (teleconference)

1 p.m. – ARCA crew chief meeting (teleconference)

4 – 5 p.m. – ARCA haulers enter (screening in progress)

5 – 5:30 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (teleconference)

5:30 p.m. – Trucks driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

6 – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

7:50 – Xfinity drivers report to cars

8 p.m. – Xfinity race No. 2; 200 laps/300 miles (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, July 11

7 a.m. – 2 p.m. – ARCA garage access (screening in progress)

8 – 10 a.m. – Truck series haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Truck garage access (screening in progress)

Noon – 1 p.m. – ARCA practice

2:20 p.m. – ARCA drivers report to cars

2:30 p.m. – ARCA race; 100 laps/150 miles (FS1)

4 – 5:30 p.m. – Trucks engine prime and final adjustments (garage area)

4:40 – 5:30 p.m. – ARCA haulers exit

5 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:50 p.m. – Truck drivers report to vehicles

6 p.m. – Truck race; 150 laps/225 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

6:30 – 8:30 p.m. – Cup haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

8:30 p.m. – Truck haulers exit

Sunday, July 12

7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. – Cup garage access (screening in progress)

12:30 – 2 p.m. – Engine prime and final adjustments on pit road

2:20 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

2:30 p.m. – Quaker State 400; 267 laps/400.5 miles (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

6:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

Thursday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky: Start time, forecast and more

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A stretch of five races in four days at Kentucky Speedway begins Thursday night with the first of two Xfinity Series races.

It will mark the second doubleheader of the year for the Xfinity Series.

Can Chase Briscoe keep up a winning pace that’s seen him win three times in the last four races (and five overall thus far in the season’s first 13 races)?

Here’s all the info you need for Thursday night’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be at 8:13 p.m by Shady Rays CEO Chris Ratterman. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:24 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 1 p.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments are at 6 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 8:05 p.m by Jason Romano. The national anthem will be performed at 8:06 p.m. by Matthew Grant.

DISTANCE: The race is 134 laps (201 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 60.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, a high of 86 degrees and a 24% chance of rain predicted at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe defeated Justin Haley and Noah Gragson to win on the Indianapolis road course.

LAST RACE AT KENTUCKY: Cole Custer beat Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for lineup

Starting lineup for Saturday’s Truck Series race at Kentucky

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Brett Moffitt will start from the pole for Saturday’s NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FS1) thanks to a random draw.

He will be joined on the front row by Zane Smith. In fact, the first three drivers are all from GMS Racing: Moffitt, Smith and Tyler Ankrum, who will start third.

Rounding out the top five are Christian Eckes and Austin Hill.

Click here for the starting lineup 

NASCAR Truck Series at Kentucky

Race Time: 6 p.m. ET Saturday

Track: Kentucky Speedway; Sparta, Kentucky (1.5-mile speedway)

Length: 150 laps, 225 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 35. Stage 2 ends on Lap 70.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Cup race: Sunday at Kentucky (267 laps, 400.5 miles), 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox

Next Xfinity race: Thursday at Kentucky (134 laps, 201 miles), 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Follow @JerryBonkowski