NASCAR drivers prepare for a race much differently than they have done in the past. These days, drivers are more health-conscious, and that has become a staple in their race prep. But new fans of the sport, and long-time fans alike, may still wonder how a NASCAR driver prepares for a race.
NASCAR drivers prepare for a race by ensuring they are fit and hydrated enough to meet the demands of a 400+ mile event. They must also run practice sessions and provide feedback to their teams, who will further fine-tune their car. Some may even take part in support races before Cup Series events.
Below, we will give you a full outline of how NASCAR drivers prepare for races. We will also talk about how drivers prepare for a race at either a new or a reconfigured track. Finally, we will discuss how drivers have prepared for dirt track racing since it made its return in 2021.
How Do NASCAR Drivers Prepare For Races?
NASCAR drivers prepare for races by doing a rigorous exercise routine that’s similar to other sports, including cardio and weightlifting. The specific routine varies based on the driver, but it often also incorporates a well-regulated diet. They also implement regular practice sessions.
Casual NASCAR fans may believe race prep is nothing more than driving in a couple of practice sessions with a corresponding qualifying run. However, it is nowhere near as simple as showing up, practicing, qualifying, and racing. For NASCAR drivers, preparing for races often starts in the short offseason and does not end until the checkered flag at the last race.
This is because race prep is more than just gaining a feel for the track and its conditions for the weekend. It’s just like in any other sport, where preparation for regular-season games also begins in the offseason. Sometimes months before the games actually count.
The same holds true for NASCAR drivers. Just like other professional athletes, drivers in the 21st century must remain in top physical condition all year long. This may not have been true once upon a time. But drivers have since realized how much of a competitive advantage they can have during a race if they are physically fit.
How NASCAR Drivers Stay Fit
With such a crazy lifestyle, you may think it’s not easy for NASCAR drivers to maintain a high-end fitness regimen. These people travel all over America during their 9-month racing season. In the offseason, they still travel, often testing cars at new race tracks or making appearances for their sponsors.
Not to mention they also need to play parent, spouse, son, or daughter roles, among others. These drivers have charities and fundraisers to attend, plus offseason meetings at team headquarters. So to stay fit, drivers need to work out whenever they have free time.
This has been the case with Kyle Busch, who has been known to race in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions well into the 2020s, even if he is only eligible to win a Cup Series championship. Many drivers have personal trainers to guide them through their fitness regimen, but Busch’s wife, Samantha, often kept Busch’s commitment to fitness at 100 percent.
Other drivers, like former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, make time to work out. While their programs are unique, Johnson’s program incorporated distance cardio at varying intensities, weight, and bodyweight training.
Why Fitness Is Important For Race Prep
Former NASCAR driver Mark Martin popularized fitness and nutrition among NASCAR drivers. Most drivers, even prominent ones like Richard Petty, saw their success wane as they aged, but Martin’s did not. One of his best seasons came in 2009 when he finished second in the points at age 50.
NASCAR is a game of endurance, with drivers burning through over a thousand calories per event, even if it looks sedentary to the untrained eye. By incorporating sound training methods like strength, bodyweight, and endurance, drivers are conditioning themselves to go the distance week after week.
A NASCAR driver’s heart rate can exceed 140 beats per minute during an event. And it might be running a bit faster every time they avoid a collision on the track. They also need to have the strength and endurance in their upper body to handle a steering wheel for three to five hours without tiring. Plus, adopting a fitness regimen geared toward upper body training limits shoulder strain.
Nutrition And Hydration
NASCAR drivers need to treat their races like marathons on wheels. And there is no air conditioning inside the cars other than a primitive hose system that keeps the driver from overheating. To combat this, NASCAR drivers will drink plenty of fluids throughout the weekend and even during the race. This is because they can lose more than five pounds of water weight per event through sweat.
Just as a marathon runner or a tri-athlete must prepare for an event via hydration, NASCAR drivers are no different. Drivers will also eat familiar whole foods that are light on their stomachs in the final days leading up to a race.
In 2018, Chase Elliott shared his nutritional regimen for the morning of a race. He often ate grapefruit and a banana for breakfast to give him energy. However, he switched to slower burning brown rice and corn a few hours before climbing into his car. Elliott would eat grilled chicken as part of the main course.
While NASCAR drivers are human and will venture off their nutritional regimen, often called cheating on the diet, don’t expect them to cheat much during the weekend, even on days that they practice or qualify as they prepare for the Cup Series race.
When you think of superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, specific drivers probably come to your mind. Ditto for short tracks, road courses, and intermediate ovals. This is because some NASCAR drivers just perform well at certain tracks. But this doesn’t mean they should skive off of weekly practice.
Drivers who dominated superspeedways know that others who had not raced well the previous season may have figured things out for the current season. Also, other drivers who logged modest finishes in the past may have signed with more established race teams, which will make them a more formidable opponent.
Further, tracks undergo repaving, and they may even be completely overhauled, affecting how the cars handle when they race there. This means drivers will need to ‘relearn’ how their car handles on that specific track before they race there.
Even with all other things being equal, and if a NASCAR driver is still the clear-cut favorite to win a race or at least to perform well, they still need to be on the track for weekly practice to run the car in varying weather conditions. While drivers cannot race in the rain, they will race in fluctuating temperatures.
Changes in weather conditions will change from year to year, which will further affect track conditions. If a driver has always been successful at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the race temperature has always been over 70 degrees, they will feel as though they are driving on a different track if the temperature drops below 60 degrees on an unseasonably cool day.
Weather conditions, both hot and cold, will affect the entire car. Track conditions can also change during a race, which actually is the case at Charlotte during the very long Coca-Cola 600. Drivers must be prepared for differing track conditions and must prepare accordingly during practice sessions.
While you won’t see as many drivers running support races these days, some drivers continue to race in either the Truck or Xfinity Series. If you have ever heard of the Weekend Sweep, it occurs when a driver wins both support races and the Cup Series main event.
While drivers can prepare for a race by running in practice, other drivers prefer to run the support races to gain a feel for what the track’s conditions might look like the following day. It also helps them get between 150 and 400 more laps than they otherwise would if they just raced in the Cup Series event.
Just as professional athletes in all sports need to prepare for an event until the minutes preceding it, so do NASCAR drivers. As mentioned earlier, they will stick to a sound nutrition plan and hydrate to prepare themselves for the event.
However, drivers also need to attend photo shoots, mandatory driver meetings, and sponsorship appearances on race day. To give themselves a breather and to focus on the most important task coming their way, the race, drivers all adopt their own unique race day preparation routine.
Some drivers will supplement their preparation by listening to music. Others read, while some even meditate. Drivers who are more extroverted may hang out with their crew in the garage, watch TV in their hauler, or spend time with family when they are not tending to other commitments.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR drivers prepare for races with a strict diet and fitness program
• They’ll also prepare during dedicated practice sessions to get ready for a given race
• Some drivers may take part in other racing series to keep their skills sharp
How Do NASCAR Drivers Prepare For A New Track?
NASCAR drivers prepare for a new track using a range of methods, including seeing how previous drivers have fared at the track if there is historical data, and using racing simulators. Simulators allow drivers to get a feel for new road courses while also giving the team lots of useful data.
The 2020s is quite an exciting time to be a NASCAR fan. These days, we are seeing new tracks come to the circuit plus old locations in new styles. Since 2021, NASCAR has raced in at least six road course events, and they also transformed Bristol Motor Speedway into a dirt track for its annual spring race.
But with each new track on the circuit, NASCAR drivers must adequately prepare for what is to come. Some may start off by watching footage of past races, if possible, to see how past drivers in similar series have fared at the track. They will notice how drivers sped into and out of specific turns, how sharply they turned, and where they positioned themselves in preparation for the next turn.
If there is no footage of past events, then drivers and teams may use data collection from races at similar tracks. But that footage and data collection is nothing more than a starting point. Drivers must also apply what they are seeing to the track itself. And this is where the preparation really begins.
As is common in other motorsports, like Formula 1, NASCAR teams can use racing simulators to get their drivers up to speed on new tracks. These simulators are not like the one you might have at home, as they’ll have full motion rigs built into them that can make it feel like the driver is truly racing around a track.
Not all drivers will use these simulators, but they can serve as a very valuable tool to learn new tracks without burning any real rubber. They’re very expensive to build, but they can provide the teams with invaluable data about how the car and driver perform at a given track. It’s about as close as a driver can get to driving on the track for real.
How Do NASCAR Drivers Prepare For Dirt Racing?
NASCAR drivers can prepare for dirt racing by racing at support races like the Truck Series, which began featuring dirt race tracks in 2013. However, many drivers have no real method to prepare for dirt racing, but as they’re professional racing drivers, it usually comes fairly naturally.
Dirt track racing made its triumphant return to NASCAR in 2021 with the Bristol Dirt Race. It was the first time since 1970 that the NASCAR Cup Series ran a race on dirt. While dirt track racing is akin to NASCAR’s roots, it was slowly phased out during its formative days.
When the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company started sponsoring NASCAR in 1971, they wanted the series to run strictly on non-dirt surfaces that included predominantly asphalt and concrete. So when dirt track racing returned following a 50-plus-year layover, it was a learning curve for drivers and teams alike.
While tire and engine testing described above are two components, another fact is that few NASCAR drivers have experience racing 3,400 lb (1,542 kg) on dirt tracks. It was one of those cases where drivers did their own unique things in preparation for the 2021 event.
Drivers also used the bias-ply tires that made a comeback to the event in 2021 as opposed to the radial tires. These tires were used for the first time in over 30 seasons, meaning drivers had little to no experience using them.
These tires were not slick tires, which are often seen used in NASCAR. Instead, they have treads that allows drivers to better control their cars through Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt-covered surface.
So, one obstacle facing the drivers for this particular event was the different tires. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue in later seasons for veteran drivers, although for incoming Cup Series drivers racing on dirt, it does pose a challenge.
Racing In Dirt Track Events
While the NASCAR Cup Series returned to dirt track racing in 2021, the Truck Series made its debut in dirt track racing in 2013 at the Eldora Speedway. Racing at the Eldora Speedway was one dirt track event some drivers could have gained experience in the years leading to the 2021 Bristol Dirt Race. Other drivers like Martin Truex Jr ran the support race in the Truck Series to prepare.
Erik Jones stated Cup Series cars were not built to race in dirt, so he instead made comparisons to past truck races at Eldora. Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Austin Dillon were among a handful of drivers who entered the Bristol Dirt Nationals as a way to gain experience.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR drivers prepare for new tracks using past footage and data, along with advanced racing simulators
• Not all drivers use these simulators, but they are very useful for teams too as they provide lots of valuable data
• For dirt races, NASCAR drivers might prepare by taking part in other dirt racing events
NASCAR drivers prepare for a race by undergoing strict exercise and diet routines, and by taking part in practice sessions. They prepare for new tracks by looking at past footage and data, and they may also use racing simulators at their team’s HQ to learn new tracks as well.