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.

Long: Is Talladega supposed to look like this?

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So what is NASCAR? Is it a sport? Or is it a show?

Admittedly, those in the NASCAR offices likely will view its racing as both. But that creates a conflict over how to look at Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

If one views it as a sporting event, Stewart-Haas Racing’s domination — qualifying all of its cars in the top four, running there much of the race and Aric Almirola winning with Clint Bowyer second — should be celebrated because SHR did what every team hopes to do every weekend.

But that performance doesn’t play well to the overall view of the race (or show). With SHR controlling the front and drivers battling ill-handling cars, the two- and three-wide racing so common at Talladega often was replaced by single-file racing.

The 15 lead changes were the fewest at Talladega since 1973.

Green flag passes — a stat NASCAR tracks based on position changes over each scoring loop on every lap — were down 54.4 percent from last fall’s playoff race at Talladega.

Think about that … lead changes at its lowest level since before any driver in Sunday’s race was born and green-flag passes down more than 50 percent from the previous year.

Is that something fans want to see more of?

Doesn’t seem to be the case based on Jeff Gluck’s weekly Twitter poll. He stated that only 42 percent of those who voted this week thought Talladega was a good race.

Fewer than 50 percent of the voters said either Talladega race this year was a good one in Gluck’s poll. The April race had 24 lead changes — the fewest for that event since 19 lead changes in the 1998 race — and saw a 57.8 percent decline in green-flag passes.

There’s an expectation when NASCAR races at Daytona and Talladega of pack racing, passing and wild action.

Such was in limited supply at both Talladega races this year. But it wasn’t just there. The four plate races (Daytona and Talladega) saw 89 lead changes this season — down 29.4 percent from last year’s plate races.

While three of the four plate races this year ended with a last-lap pass (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500, Erik Jones at Daytona in July and Aric Almirola at Talladega last weekend), not everyone may be willing to wait through the racing to those final laps.

With the 2019 rules package, NASCAR anticipates pack racing to remain key at Daytona and Talladega but Sunday’s race might force series officials to make some additional changes to ensure the pack is back next year.


Questions have been raised about how NASCAR officiated the end of the Truck and Cup races this weekend at Talladega.

Kurt Busch was critical of NASCAR’s decision. Had NASCAR called a caution for the crash in Turn 1 on the last lap, Busch likely would have won. Instead, he ran out of fuel and Aric Almirola won.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, explained Monday on SirusXM NASCAR Radio how series officials made the call on if to throw the caution in either race.

“Our first job is to always make sure everybody is safe, and we felt we did that in this case,” O’Donnell said about letting the Cup race finish under green.

While each last-lap scenario presents different challenges, NASCAR must remain steadfast in following what O’Donnell said in terms of driver safety. That must be No. 1 regardless of it is the last lap at Talladega, the last lap of the Daytona 500 or the last lap of the championship race in Miami.

NASCAR must be consistent with that. And that may mean calling for a caution instead of a dramatic race to the finish line.


It won’t be next year but maybe someday GMS Racing likely will field a Cup team.

GMS Racing, owned by Maury Gallagher, was in talks with Furniture Row Racing earlier this year to purchase the team’s charter, align with Joe Gibbs Racing and move to Cup next season. It’s one of the reasons why the team, through Mike Beam, didn’t try to top Front Row Motorsports’ bid for BK Racing’s charter and equipment in a court-appointed auction in August.

After examining all the costs, Gallagher decided not to pursue the Furniture Row Racing charter and equipment.

“We’re still talking and thinking about it, but first things first, we’re trying to get through this year and do some good things, particularly winning the (Truck) championship,” Gallagher said after Timothy Peters won the Truck race at Talladega.

Spencer Gallagher called the deal not working out a “tempered disappointment” but added “we got into that deal and we realized that we were going to have to undertake some additional complications with it. More than anything, if and when we make the decision to go Cup racing, I’d like to think that if we have one true luxury it is that we get to choose when and where we get to do it, which means that we’re committed to only doing it if it can be done right.

“As Maury likes to say, there’s always another deal that comes along. Patience is our watchword for getting ourselves into Cup.”

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Silly Season includes crew chief moves at Hendrick Motorsports

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Matt DiBenedetto, whose career has often been overshadowed, got to bask in the attention surrounding his 2019 ride at Leavine Family Racing for a couple of hours Wednesday.

Then Hendrick Motorsports shook the sport by announcing it was splitting Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus – one of NASCAR’s greatest driver/crew chief combinations – after this season.

That just added to a Cup Silly Season that has already seen four drivers announce new rides for next year – and more to come with future announcements for Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Kurt Busch, among others.

Here’s a look at where things stand in Silly Season:

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22)

No. 13: Ty Dillon said he will remain at Germain Racing for the 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 24)

No. 31: Daniel Hemric replaces Ryan Newman at Richard Childress Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28)

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

No. 47: Ryan Preece replaces AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28)

No. 95: Matt DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing for 2019. Leavine Family Racing also switches to Toyota beginning next year (announcement made Oct. 10)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court in August. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto announced Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal in December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

AJ Allmendinger: He has not announced what his plans will be for 2019.

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement that he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Daniel Suarez: With reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez is looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.” Suarez is the favorite for the No. 41 ride.

Martin Truex Jr: Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season. Truex, though, is expected to move to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing and replace Daniel Suarez.

CREW CHIEF CHANGES

No. 24: Chad Knaus replaces Darian Grubb as William Byron‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 48: Kevin Meendering will replace Chad Knaus as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

XFINITY SERIES

ANNOUNCED CHANGES FOR 2019

No. 1: Noah Gragson replaces Elliott Sadler at JR Motorsports beginning next year (announcement made Sept. 25).

Silly Season: Daniel Suarez could hold key to what happens next

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Daniel Suarez could hold the next key in what happens in Silly Season as he considers his options for 2019.

Suarez is expected to lose his ride in the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing to Martin Truex Jr., who is in need of a ride after Furniture Row Racing announced it would cease operations after this season.

Car owner Joe Gibbs is hopeful to formally announce his team’s plans soon.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Gibbs said after Kyle Busch won for JGR on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. “There’s a lot of things in contracts and everything else about what you can and can’t do, and it’s just one of those things that is hard for us. I’m anxious, too. I would like to be able to announce it, but there’s still a lot up in the air with it.”

The three most likely destinations for Suarez would be the No. 41 at Stewart-Haas Racing, the No. 31 at Richard Childress Racing and the No. 95 at Leavine Family Racing, which is expected to partner with Toyota next season. The SHR ride, based on its performance, would seem to be the most attractive option.

“I’m sure good things will come our way,” Suarez said this weekend at Richmond.

Here’s a look at where things stand in Silly Season so far (based off what has been announced):

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22)

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 only and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court in August. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 31: Ryan Newman announced Sept. 15 that he would not return to the No. 31 after this season. Car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports: “We’ll announce who our driver is in the near future.”

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto’s announcement Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal in December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

No. 95: Kasey Kahne announced Aug. 16 that he would not return for another full-time season. Also, this team has told Richard Childress Racing it won’t be a part of its technical alliance next year. Car owner Bob Leavine said Aug. 5 that “in our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far.”

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Matt DiBenedettoSaid he was betting on himself by leaving Go Fas Racing and looking to race elsewhere. While he would like a full-time ride, he would entertain a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series with a winning team, following what Ryan Preece has done.

Daniel Hemric: The Xfinity driver for Richard Childress Racing was asked Aug. 17 at Bristol about his future and he described it as: “Cloudy, very cloudy.” He said then he has not signed anything for the 2019 season, adding: “I’m trying to do everything I can on the race track to prove to somebody that would be willing to put me in a car and give me a shot.”

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Ryan Preece: Modified ace who has run a limited schedule in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and had great success has not announced his 2019 plans.

Daniel Suarez: With reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez would be looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.”

Martin Truex Jr.: Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season. Truex, though, is expected to move to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing and replace Daniel Suarez.

XFINITY SERIES

OPEN RIDES FOR 2019

1: Elliott Sadler announced Aug. 15 that he will not run full-time in NASCAR after this season, creating an opening at JR Motorsports for 2019.

Silly Season: More rides changing for 2019

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Trevor Bayne is the latest to be looking for a ride for 2019 after car owner Jack Roush said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Bayne would not return to the team after this season.

Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, had struggled this season before Roush Fenway Racing brought back Matt Kenseth to share the No. 6 ride with Bayne.

Since he began driving in Cup for Roush in 2015, Bayne has zero wins, four top fives and 11 top-10 finishes in 124 starts.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands at this point:

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 only and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 6: Car owner Jack Roush said Sept. 12 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Trevor Bayne would not be back with Roush Fenway Racing after this season. Bayne, who has shared the No. 6 ride this season with Matt Kenseth, has driven in Cup for Roush since 2015.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 31: Ryan Newman announced Sept. 15 that he would not return to the No. 31 after this season. Car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports: “We’ll announce who our driver is in the near future.”

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto’s announcement Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal last December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

No. 95: Kasey Kahne announced Aug. 16 that he would not return for another full-time season. Also, this team has told Richard Childress Racing it won’t be a part of its technical alliance next year. Car owner Bob Leavine said Aug. 5 that “in our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far.”

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Matt DiBenedettoSaid he was betting on himself by leaving Go Fas Racing and looking to race elsewhere. While he would like a full-time ride, he would entertain a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series with a winning team, following what Ryan Preece has done.

Daniel Hemric: The Xfinity driver for Richard Childress Racing was asked Aug. 17 at Bristol about his future and he described it as: “Cloudy, very cloudy.” He said then he has not signed anything for the 2019 season, adding: “I’m trying to do everything I can on the race track to prove to somebody that would be willing to put me in a car and give me a shot.”

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Ryan Newman: He announced during the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that he won’t be returning to Richard Childress Racing. He intends to remain in Cup for 2019 but has yet to reveal his destination.

Ryan Preece: Modified ace who has run a limited schedule in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and had great success has not announced his 2019 plans.

Daniel SuarezWith reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez would be looking for a ride. He said Sept. 9 at Indianapolis that “I’m not really allowed” to talk about his situation and then added: “Everything happens for a reason. I think we are going to be in good shape.”

Martin Truex Jr.Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season.

XFINITY SERIES

OPEN RIDES FOR 2019

1: Elliott Sadler announced Aug. 15 that he will not run full-time in NASCAR after this season, creating an opening at JR Motorsports for 2019.