You might say that the newest NASCAR Cup team owner is now in a Rush.
Spire Sports + Entertainment, which recently purchased the Cup charter of former NASCAR championship team Furniture Row Racing, has branched out, taking a minority ownership share in the Rapid City (South Dakota) Rush of the 27-team East Coast Hockey League.
Spire co-founders Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr will become active minority partners in the Rush, hoping to bring the team back to past prominence.
“We aren’t going to be saviors here,” Spire co-founder Jeff Dickerson said in a press conference at the team’s Rushmore Plaza Civic Center home. “There’s no magic bullet. It’s going to take all of us to create the culture that builds excitement and value. The city loves the Rush and we hope to get it back to where it was.”
Rush majority owner, Rapid City businessman Scott Mueller, sees better days ahead for his club.
“The biggest thing is (Spire’s) sports industry knowledge,” Mueller said, according to the Rapid City Journal. “It’s about putting people in seats, selling advertising and they have a lot of knowledge on that. (Dickerson) sees so many venues, and I think he’s going to be involved in changes that are needed.
“We’ve taken some steps in the last few months. These are great days for us, and we’re really excited about our future.”
The Rush is mired in sixth place in the ECHL’s seven-team Mountain Division.
Spire isn’t the only NASCAR Cup team owner involved in other sports. Roush Fenway Racing’s co-owner John Henry owns Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox and the Liverpool Football Club of soccer’s Premier League, while Chip Ganassi previously was a minority owner in MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Felix Sabates, who also holds a minority ownership stake in Chip Ganassi Racing, is also a minority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
“We have been looking for several years to find something in minor league sports and see if what we do in motorsports translates to this space,” Puchyr said, according to The Journal. “Our due diligence indicates that it does.”
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 Gragsonand 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.
“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 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
It’s been 2 years since I have raced a car. If you told me earlier in life that I would find something I’m more passionate about than driving I wouldn’t have believed it. Optimizing humans is what I was made to do. Specifically humans who like speed ✅
“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.
“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.”
“(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.’ ”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
After just a couple days of working with Josh it is very clear to see the passion and commitment he has put into this program. He has already opened my eyes to new ways of becoming the best I can be and has lit a 🔥 under me. I’m honored to be a part of this program. #backtobackhttps://t.co/ByRSpJFvQX
“This is a tremendous opportunity to go out and win races and have a shot at the championship,” Busch said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
The 40-year-old replaces Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 car with Ganassi’s team. Busch has won at least one race in 15 Cup seasons. He has 30 career Cup victories.
“It’s not oftentimes that a NASCAR champion, a Daytona 500 winner becomes available and I think when you got a guy that is a racer like Kurt … I think somebody like that comes along, you’ve got to take a serious look at him,” car owner Chip Ganassi said on the conference call Tuesday. “It didn’t take me long to say yes when he became available.”
Busch said he has considered that 2019 could be his last season in Cup.
“For me, I know right now I’m all in, no matter what it’s going to be, whether it’s going to be 36 races and a championship run or as a pact like Chip and I have talked about, along with Monster, that if we come out of the gate like gangbusters and have five wins by July Daytona, let’s talk about 2020,” Busch said.
“For me, the way everything has panned out from my switch to SHR to Ganassi Racing, I had always talked about 2019 and that being my 20th full-time year. That’s a number I have in my mind. Any time you get an opportunity like this and now seeing everybody on the shop floor this morning, you don’t know what’s around the next corner as far as motivation and challenges. For right now I see it as all in, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
Busch said that Matt McCall, who has been the No. 1 team’s crew chief, will remain in that role with him.
With the move, Busch will be a teammate to Kyle Larson.
Busch said the deal was done earlier, but he held off announcing until now.
“Why I wanted a small delay in the announcement was really strictly me being selfish and wanting a really cool introduction, the smoke show that Monster brings, the glitz, the glamour and the fun,” Busch said. “It also dovetailed a fantastic 2018 season that I had at SHR. That group knew midsummer that we weren’t going to be together. I have to commend Greg Zipadelli and Tony Stewart in the way they approached the playoff races. When Chip and I struck our deal and Monster confirmed, Chip and I looked at each other, and said ‘You know what? As long as you’re championship eligible … we’ll just delay the announcement.’ It just worked out perfect. My final day was the final day of November for SHR, and here it is December 4, and I wish today was February 4. I wish we were going to Daytona next week. I’m all pumped up to get going and get to the track.”
Ganassi said an announcement will be coming on McMurray. He has been offered a ride in the Daytona 500 in a third Ganassi car and then move into a position with the team.
“I do expect Jamie to stick around,” Ganassi said.
Ganassi also said that sponsors McDonald’s and Cessna will remain.
Harvick, Busch and Truex look to become the 16th driver in NASCAR history to win multiple Cup championships. Logano seeks his first series title.
“It’s just one of the greatest joys in the world,” Busch said of winning a NASCAR Cup title.
While one will celebrate Sunday, the other three will experience what Busch calls “one of the greatest defeats in the world.”
Here’s a guide to the final weekend of the NASCAR season:
Kyle Busch races for a championship for the fourth consecutive year after failing to advance to the title race in 2014, the first year of the elimination format.
Kevin Harvick makes his fourth appearances in the championship race in five years. This is reigning champion Martin Truex Jr.’s third appearance. Joey Logano also makes his third appearance.
The four drivers have combined to win more than 60 percent of the races this season — the first time the Championship 4 drivers have won more than half the races in a season in the elimination format. They also rank first through fourth in top fives and laps led this year. This is clearly the best four for the title this season.
FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT
When one races around each other enough, things happen and drivers never forget.
Joey Logano upset Martin Truex Jr. by bumping him out of the way on the last lap to win at Martinsville last month. Had Logano not won that day he would not have advanced to the championship race.
Logano said he was doing what he had to win that day. Asked how he’d retaliate, Truex said: “I’m just not going to let him win (the title). I’m going to win it.”
Logano and Busch have their history in this race. Busch was upset with how Logano raced him at the end of the race last year.
Harvick bumped Busch out of the lead with seven laps to go to win at New Hampshire in July. Said Busch after the race: “I’m not sure he (Harvick) had to do it, but he did. It’s fine. How you race is how you get raced.”
In the first four years of this format, the champion had to win the race to claim the crown.
Logano is still haunted by the 2016 race. He restarted third on the inside line behind Carl Edwards with eight laps left. Logano dived low to get by Edwards, who blocked. They made contact, triggering a multi-car crash. While Logano was able to continue, he could not get to the lead again and finished fourth.
“Every time I watch that race, I get so mad I slam my laptop closed,” Logano said. “That moment will forever be burned into my mind of how close we were to winning a championship that day, but we’ve got another opportunity to right that, so here we go.”
The streak of a champion needing to win the race at this 1.5-mile track is likely to continue. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win 16 of the last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks.
LAST RIDE TOGETHER
Sunday’s race marks the final race for Furniture Row Racing. The team, based in Denver, Colorado, is shutting down after this season.
Furniture Row Racing, owned by Barney Visser, made its Cup debut in 2005. The team did not compete in every Cup race until 2010. Furniture Row Racing scored its first Cup victory in 2011 when Regan Smith won the Southern 500. That was the organization’s only win until Martin Truex Jr. won in 2015 at Pocono. Truex has won 17 races with the team.
“We understand it’s here, (this) week is our last week, but it’s cool that we’re going to Homestead with a chance to win it in his last race,” Truex said.
Said Visser: “For me personally, my emotions are all over the board. I am sad not to be able to continue. I am going to miss the guys for sure, miss this whole thing. I don’t know what it’s going to feel like exactly when it’s over. And I don’t know what the emotions will be like when the Daytona 500 rolls around next year and we’re not in it. I just don’t know how emotional it will be. I am afraid it will be enormous.”
The team’s hauler left the shop late Tuesday night for its trip to Miami. It was an emotional time for the team.
“I don’t think any of us were prepared for how emotional it was (Tuesday) night when we loaded up,” crew chief Cole Pearn said. “I think we’ve just been head down, kind of pushing super hard, trying to do everything we can to get ready for this weekend, and once it was in the truck and saw the lift gate up, there was a lot of tears shed and a lot of sad faces, and I think all of us really realized that that was the last time we were going to do it together as a group.”
That the 54-year-old Gibson is on the pit box is a story itself. He suffered a blood clot July 6.
“I was actually just driving home from work and just had a real, I just could not get my brain to function with my hands and my feet, and I could not drive any further and knew something was wrong,” Gibson said. “Just wasn’t sure, and ended up going to the emergency room and put me in for observation that night, and then about one in the morning they came back and they had done several scans and told me I had a blood clot in my vertebral artery.”
He said he was in the hospital for a little more than a week before being released. As the blood clot dissolved, it caused a mini stroke. He returned to the hospital. Gibson said he lost about 85 percent of the hearing in his left ear and most of the function in his left eye. He’s been doing rehab and returned to work Aug. 20.
Gibson has an appointment scheduled with his neurologist Friday but will miss it because he will be in Miami, leading Harvick’s team.
“I was very lucky, and I don’t take that for granted,” Gibson said. “There’s a lot of people out there that are way worse than me, so it’s just something that I’ll overcome and I’ll get used to it and go on.”
TIME TO SAY GOODBYE
There will be many changes after Sunday’s race, particularly among drivers.
Matt Kenseth does not have plans to race next season, so Sunday’s race looks to be his final Cup race.
Daniel Suarez will run his last race for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is being replaced by Martin Truex Jr. after this season. Suarez has not announced where he’ll drive next year but is expected to sign with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Kurt Busch will drive his final Cup race for Stewart-Haas Racing. His seat is expected to be filled by Suarez. Busch is expected to move to Chip Ganassi Racing and replace Jamie McMurray, who has an offer from car owner Chip Ganassi to drive in next year’s Daytona 500 before moving to a position in the front office.
Ryan Newman will run his final race for Richard Childress Racing and move to Roush Fenway Racing to drive the No. 6 car next season. Newman will be replaced by RCR Xfinity driver Daniel Hemric.
Matt DiBenedetto will drive his final race for Go Fas Racing. DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing to drive the No. 95 next year. Go Fas Racing has not announced a driver for next year.
AJ Allmendinger will drive his final race for JTG Daugherty Racing this weekend. He will be replaced by rookie Ryan Preece next season in the No. 47 car. Allmendinger has not announced plans for next year.
This also will be the final weekend seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson races with crew chief Chad Knaus. They’ve been together since Johnson’s rookie year in 2002 but will split after this season. Knaus will be the crew chief for William Byron next year. Kevin Meendering will be Johnson’s crew chief next year.
PIT CREW CHANGES
Kevin Harvick’s team announced this week that it is changing its rear tire changer.
Chris McMullen, who had been teammate Aric Almirola’s rear tire changer all season, moves to Harvick’s team this week and replaces Michael Johnson.
The move was made because Almirola was eliminated from title contention last weekend at Phoenix. McMullen becomes the team’s third rear tire changer this season. Daniel Smith had the role until health issues forced him out. Johnson took over at the Southern 500.
That’s not the only team that has made changes in the playoffs. After teammate Ryan Blaney was eliminated last month at Kansas, his jackman, Graham Stoddard, went to Joey Logano’s team.
“That group has been stellar,” crew chief Todd Gordon said of the revamped unit. “If you look at Martinsville, I would give them a fair amount of credit for putting us in position to win that race.”
Kyle Busch’s team changed fuelers before last weekend’s race at Phoenix. John Eicher moved over from Erik Jones‘ team in a temporary role. He filled in for Matthew Tyrrell, who stayed home on baby watch. Crew chief Adam Stevens said that he had not heard as of Wednesday if Tyrrell’s baby had arrived but said that Tyrrell would be in Miami with the team and resume his fueling duties.
Martin Truex Jr.’s team has had the same pit crew since Richmond, the second playoff race. Clay Robinson had been a backup front tire changer at Joe Gibbs Racing and moved over to Truex’s team, which gets its pit crew from JGR.
ONE LAST CHANCE
Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson, drivers who each won last year, have a final chance to score their first victory of this season.
Johnson has scored at least one win in 16 consecutive season, which is tied for the third-longest streak in series history (Richard Petty has the record at 18 consecutive seasons).
Hamlin has scored at least one victory in 12 consecutive seasons, which ranks 13th on the all-time Cup list.
Larson has finished runner-up six times this year but has yet to win. He’s had at least one win in each of the past two seasons.
Cup and Xfinity teams will have a new left-side tire this weekend compared to what was run in Miami last year.
The left-side tire features a construction update. It is the same left-side tire teams ran at Chicagoland in July. The multi-zone right-side tires have not changed since last year. Cup and Xfinity teams have run this combination of left- and right-side tires at Auto Club Speedway in March and at Chicagoland Speedway in July.
“Because of the high wear we see, these compounds provide the endurance and tread wear needed for Homestead’s track surface, while at the same time giving the cars enough grip,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing.
TWO OTHER CHAMPIONSHIPS AT STAKE
The Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series also will crown their champions this weekend.
The Xfinity Series will race Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Hemric will compete for the crown. Custer won this race last year but was not eligible to win the championship, having been eliminated from title contention earlier in the playoffs.
The 23-year-old Bell, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, won the Truck series title last year.
Chip Ganassi Racing signs Ross Chastain to drive No. 42 Xfinity car in 2019
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Chip Ganassi Racing announced that Ross Chastain will drive its No. 42 Xfinity car in 2019. DC Solar will be the sponsor.
“Make no mistake about it, I think everybody on the team has agreed to put him in the car because we think he can win races and championships,” car owner Chip Ganassi said Friday at ISM Raceway.
Chastain drove three races for the No. 42 team this season in the Xfinity Series. He won the pole and challenged for the win at Darlington before an incident with Kevin Harvick and then won at Las Vegas in the Ganassi car.
“It’s unreal, honestly,” Chastain of his full-time Xfinity ride in 2019.
Chastain has driven for JD Motorsports in the series since 2015.
“What Johnny Davis has done for me is incredible,” Chastain said.
Chastain also said that he plans to run in Cup next year for Premium Motorsports.
Asked if Ganassi plans to run a second Xfinity car for his Cup drivers next year, he said. he’d like to run John Hunter Nemechek in a second car. Nemechek has driven 16 races this season for the team. He is in the car this weekend and is scheduled to drive the car next weekend in Miami.