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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 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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2018 Xfinity Season in Review: Tyler Reddick

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Tyler Reddick

CREW CHIEF: David Elenz

TEAM: JR Motorsports

POINTS: First

WINS: Two (Daytona I and Miami)

LAPS LED:  184

TOP 5s: Seven (Only three more than in 2017 when he ran in 18 races)

TOP 10s: 20

POLES: None (Had two in 2017 as a part-time driver)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Beat Elliott Sadler in the closest finish in NASCAR history to win the season-opening race at Daytona … Had eight top tens in the last 12 races, including six in the seven-race playoffs … Delivered JR Motorsports its third Xfinity title and its second in a row … Was the first driver to ever win the first and last race of the season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: After his Daytona win, Reddick finished in the top five only once in the next 22 races … Experienced five DNFs in a 12-race stretch mid-season … Led 54 laps in the Texas playoff race but was passed on the last lap by Cole Custer and finished second.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2019: Reddick will have his third home in as many years as he moves from JR Motorsports to Richard Childress Racing, where he’ll drive the No. 2 Chevrolet … Reddick will be the first Xfinity champion to defend his title since Chase Elliott in 2015.

2018 Xfinity Season in Review: Christopher Bell

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Christopher Bell

CREW CHIEF: Jason Ratcliff

TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing

POINTS: Fouth

WINS: Seven (A rookie record)

LAPS LED:  759 (Series-best)

TOP 5s: 18 (Series-best)

TOP 10s: 20 (Tied for fifth most)

POLES: Five (Second most)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Was the first series regular to win three consecutive races since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1999 … Swept the Richmond races … Won the fall Phoenix race in a must-win situation to advance to the championship race.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Recorded six DNFs for wrecks, including two in the Round of 8, setting up his must-win scenario in the final elimination race … Best finish of ninth in the series’ three road course races … His Phoenix win was his only top-10 finish in the final four races … A cut tire forced Bell to pit in the last 10 laps of the championship race.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2019: Bell will once again be paired with crew chief Jason Ratcliff as the No. 20 team tries to avenge losing the title to Tyler Reddick.  It will be interesting to see if there’s any hangover for the team after coming up short.

Top 18 moments from 2018 NASCAR season

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NBC Sports took a look back at the top 18 moments from the 2018 season, highlighted by chaotic last laps, historic first wins and championship runs.

No. 18: Tyler Reddick‘s first Xinity Series win of the season came in the first race of the year at Daytona; his only other win of 2018 was in Miami in the season ending race to win the championship.

No. 17: Christopher Bell won three in a row in Xfinity, the first driver to do so since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1999.

No. 16: Erik Jones gets his first Cup win and breaks the dominance of the Big 3 at Daytona in July.

No. 15: Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn snooker Kevin Harvick at Sonoma to force them into a two-stop pit strategy.

No. 14: The 2019 Hall of Fame Class was announced to include Jeff Gordon, Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki.

No. 13: The “War of the Words” between Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. following July’s Daytona race.

No. 12: Harvick gives son Keelan Harvick a ride to Michigan’s victory lane.

No. 11: NASCAR reveals a version of the new rules package in the All-Star race at Charlotte. Harvick won.

No. 10: Clint Bowyer snaps a 190-race winless streak at Martinsville in the spring.

No. 9: Hailie Deegan gets a historic win as the first female in a major NASCAR series at Meridian (ID) Speedway.

No. 8: “Sliced bread” Joey Logano becomes the toast of NASCAR with his championship win. Mark Martin gave Logano his nickname before he ever entered the Cup series.

No. 7: Ross Chastain shoulders the pressure and gets his first Xfinity win at Las Vegas. “I’m just a watermelon farmer from Florida,” he said at the start-finish line.

No. 6: Logano bumps Truex out of the lead in Turn 4 at Martinsville in the fall to win and clinch his spot in the Championship 4.

No. 5: The Kyle and Kyle show gets physical on the last lap at Chicagoland. Kyle Larson knocks Kyle Busch out of the lead. Busch returns the favor. Dale Earnhardt Jr gets a catch phrase with “Slide Job!”

No. 4: Austin Dillon kicks the season off in style by spinning Aric Almirola out of the lead on the last lap of the Daytona 500 and become the first driver to secure a spot in the 2018 playoffs.

No. 3: The end of an era. Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus part ways after 17 years together.

No. 2: Chaos on the Charlotte Roval including one the wildest last laps of the season. Ryan Blaney wins after Truex and Johnson crash in the final chicane.

No. 1: The beginning of the future. Chase Elliott wins at Watkins Glen after finishing second eight times. His Hall of Fame father Bill Elliott scored his first win on the road course of Riverside International Raceway after finishing second eight times.

Richard Childress Racing reveals Daytona 500 cars, sponsors, Xfinity details

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WELCOME, N.C. – Richard Childress Racing kicked off its 50th anniversary Friday at its headquarters in Welcome, North Carolina, with announcements about the 2019 season.

RCR announced Daniel Hemric will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet in his rookie Cup season. Hemric had originally been announced as driving the No. 31.

Hemric, who moves up after two years in Xfinity, drove the No. 8 in his two Cup starts in 2018.

Richard Childress Racing

Hemric will be sponsored by Caterpillar, Bass Pro Shops, Liberty National Life Insurance, Cessna and VF Workwear.

Cessna is also a sponsor at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Growing up in Kannapolis, it was all about racing,” Hemric said in a press release. “I always dreamed of having the opportunity to drive for RCR and for Richard himself. Now, two iconic numbers, the 3 and the 8, are going to be under one roof. I know it makes Richard happier than anybody, just understanding what that means for the sport of NASCAR and how our fans are going to be able to connect with that.”

RCR also confirmed NBC Sports’ report that Luke Lambert would be the crew chief for Hemric.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

The team revealed gold-themed cars Hemric and teammate Austin Dillon will drive during Speedweeks in Daytona to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary.

Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet will be sponsored by Bass Pro Shops in the Advance Auto Parts Clash.

The scheme for the exhibition race is based on the car Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove in the 1998 All-Star Race.

Xfinity Series

Team owner Richard Childress confirmed Tyler Reddick would be the organization’s only full-time Xfinity Series driver in 2019.

The defending series champion will drive the No. 2 Chevrolet and be paired with crew chief Randall Burnett, who worked with Matt Tifft on the No. 2 in 2018.

Childress said its second Xfinity car will be the No. 21 “more than likely.”

Technical Alliance

Childress confirmed the teams that will be full members of a technical alliance with RCR in 2019.

In Cup, RCR will be joined by StarCom Racing (No. 00), Germain Racing (No. 13) and Richard Petty Motorsports (No. 43).

Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series (No. 11 Chevrolet) will also be a part of the alliance.

Childress said ECR engines would be provided for all those teams.

Charter

Childress said the team would sell a team charter to StarCom Racing that had been leased to the team in 2018.

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