Dr. Diandra: The ins and outs of driver hydration


Fans at Nashville Superspeedway may struggle to keep cool in temperatures projected to be in the 80s. But for NASCAR drivers, staying chill is just one more part of their weekly training routine. Each driver has a slightly different approach.

“I’m a wimp,” Todd Gilliland said, “I’ve been wearing (a cool shirt) everywhere since the beginning of the year and I’ve got a cool box.”

Daniel Hemric told SiriusXM’s “The Morning Drive” that part of his training included playing golf in the heat.

SCORCHER AT NASHVILLE: Cup drivers battle heat Sunday

You’ll hear all kinds of strategies: cool shirts, cool boxes, ice bags, water bottles, exercising in the heat, saunas… some drivers even have personalized hydration programs.

A whole hydration program sounds like overkill. David Ferguson, Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Michigan State University, assures me it’s not. Proper hydration gives drivers a performance edge.

Credit: Michigan State University

You might wonder how a Ph.D. — the author of academic papers like “Vivo-morpholinos induced transient knockdown of physical activity related proteins” — becomes an authority on racecar driver hydration.

For Ferguson, it was a series of coincidences. The first was seeing a NASCAR race on television. Jeff Gordon’s debut made him want to drive racecars. Except…

“I was basically too old and too poor,” Ferguson said. “At 18, I decided I’m going to go to medical school and become a surgeon. Then I can afford my race cars later in life.”

He attended a track day in Las Vegas where the temperature rose to 116 °F. Ferguson complemented the driver who had been second fastest for the day.

“The driver was like ‘what are you talking about?” Ferguson recounts, “There are three cars in front of me.’ He was so dehydrated that he’s actually seeing triple.”

Ferguson wondered why, with all the effort that goes into engineering race cars, no one engineers drivers. A masters degree in exercise physiology at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte followed. He graduated just in time for the 2008 recession to eliminate his first motorsports job before he even started it.

So Ferguson returned to school and earned a doctorate from Texas A&M. Michigan State hired him to pursue research on how early-life nutrition influences cardiovascular development. But when he arrived, the construction of his lab was behind schedule.

That gave him time to pursue his other research interest: motorsports.

The dangers of dehydration

Your core body temperature is the temperature of your internal organs. They prefer to operate at around 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 °F), but can deal with a rise of about one degree Celsius — about 1.8 degrees °F. Ferguson measures core body temperatures using a pill the driver swallows. The pill sends him core temperature readings via a Bluetooth signal.

A rise in core temperature causes your body to sweat. Liquid on your skin evaporates, pulling heat away.

Sweat comes from the fluid in the cells in your vascular system. When you lose fluid, Ferguson said, “it’s like oil in your engine. Bad things are going to happen.”

Those bad things start with getting thirsty — the first indication you’re dehydrated. Because you’re low on fluid, your body can’t produce enough sweat to cool itself. If you don’t replenish fluids, your temperature continues to rise.

“So 38.5 °C (101.3 °F) is ‘I’m thirsty, I’ve got a headache,” Ferguson said. “And then 39 °C (102.2 °F) is ‘I’m kind of dizzy, kind of confused.’” Muscles cramp or fatigue.

Once your body realizes that sweating isn’t cooling you, it switches to trying not to create any more heat. That means shutting down any body function not essential to survival. You may pass out.

The real danger starts if your temperature continue to rise.

“If your core temperature reaches about 41 °C (105.8 F),” Ferguson says, “the body actually thinks you’ve got a really bad virus.”

The body generates heat because heat kills viruses. That’s why you run a fever when you get the flu.

Now your temperature goes up — exponentially.

“You’ll very quickly hit 45 °C (113 °F),” Ferguson said, “And we need to be at the emergency room. Now.”

In addition to monitoring core body temperature, Ferguson quantifies hydration by testing the specific gravity of the driver’s urine. That’s a quantitative analog to determining your hydration level by looking at the color of your urine.

A special patch collects driver sweat, because everyone perspires differently. Measuring ion concentration in the sweat tells Ferguson how many electrolytes the driver is losing. And, of course, weighing the driver before and after the race determines net fluid loss.

Hydration programs

Hydration is extra important for racecar drivers because they work in enclosed, hot spaces where safety equipment covers every square inch of skin. They’re often so focused on racing that they might not even realize they’re getting dehydrated.

Ferguson recommends drivers drink 10 milliliters of water per kilogram of body weight two hours before the race. That’s roughly two teaspoons for every pound of weight. A 150-lb driver would fill his pre-race hydration bottle with 20.5 ounces of water or a sports drink formulated to enhance hydration.

But the driver’s not done when he climbs into the car. Most drivers drink from a water bottle or drinking system under caution or while pitting.

“They’ll grab the straw, chug, chug, chug, chug,” Ferguson said. “You’re getting fluid in. It’s better than nothing. But it actually expands the stomach and slows water getting out. You’re not actually getting the benefits of replenishing.”

Proper in-car hydration requires the driver to continuously replenish fluids. That means an in-helmet drinking system — and getting in the habit of using it throughout the race.

“We’re going to tell you to drink at key intervals,” Ferguson said, “whether it’s every time you pass start-finish, or we may put a light on your dash to remind you or maybe an auditory tone in the earpiece.”

After the race, the driver should repeat the pre-race hydration, even if they don’t feel thirsty.

“You cannot over-hydrate,” Ferguson said, “You’ll just pee out the fluid.”

Hydrating early and often

I’ve never understood why drivers start hydrating days before the race. Water drunk on Thursday is long gone by Sunday.

“If they start dehydrated,” Ferguson explained, “they’ll release antidiuretic hormones. All these hormones try to retain water. So when you do give them water, they’re actually going to bloat and be uncomfortable.”

That’s the physiological reason for starting well before reaching the track. But there’s a psychological reason as well. Staying conscious of water intake helps the driver build positive hydration habits. That’s especially important with the Next Gen car.

“It’s definitely going to be hot,” Alex Bowman said, “but I think that’s what we all train for and all expect. Cup racing in the summer is a very uncomfortable environment, and the Next Gen car has made that environment way more uncomfortable, but just have to keep training. I think that stuff pays off, and hopefully, I’m on the right side of that.”

The pee question

No driver hydration discussion can be considered complete without talking about drivers having to pee in the car during a race.

“Where drivers get into trouble,” Ferguson said, “is they just think, keep taking it on, keep taking it on, like a liter every hour, go sit in a hot environment and drink a liter per hour. Then you are going to pee a ton.”

A driver who is otherwise in good health, and who correctly hydrates shouldn’t have to pee in the car. One more reason for the crew to encourage the driver to stick to his hydration program.

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas


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


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.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front


A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments


TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”


Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”


Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 


NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.