Jamie McMurray in the thick of NASCAR’s cycling craze

Photo credit: Jamie McMurray’s Twitter account, @jamiemcmurray. Also pictured are Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Brennan Poole and Tyler Reddick.

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Editor’s note: This story is part of our Fit Row series that focuses on the health and fitness aspects of racing and its superstar drivers. Presented by Lilly Diabetes, the exclusive diabetes health partner of NASCAR, the series will feature 10 themed stories.

CONCORD, N.C. — Drivers are riding around in the garage a lot these days. They just aren’t necessarily riding what you might expect.

Cycling has become the activity of choice for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers looking for a workout. Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are part of a brigade of drivers — which also includes Trevor Bayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others — partaking in cycling as a way to improve their physical fitness.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of people that are buying bikes and that are cycling,” McMurray told NASCAR.com at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month. “Dale Jr. started a Group Meet — and you can add basically anyone you want to it. It’s every team member, crew chief, driver. Everyone that is in NASCAR is a part of this. You get on there and you say I am going to go ride and this is where we are meeting at and people will show up.”

McMurray frequently rides with Kenseth and Johnson in between practice and qualifying sessions on a race weekend, which takes a high amount of dedication. The three participated in last month’s Assault on Mt. Mitchell bike ride, where McMurray got the best of both his Monster Energy Series competitors.

In the 102.7-mile ride from Spartanburg, South Carolina, along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the summit of Mt. Mitchell State Park in North Carolina, McMurray edged Johnson by three minutes. McMurray said his participation in the Assault on Mt. Mitchell came at Johnson’s urging.

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“I was actually on a ride one day with Jimmie with six to eight people – it was maybe like my 10th ride ever on a road bike and Jimmie was like ‘Hey man, you should do the Assault on Mt. Mitchell.’ And I was like, ‘yeah, I should. That would be fun. I’ll do it.’

“I slowed down to let a couple bikes go to get back to get to where Josh (Wise) was and I was like ‘what’s Mitchell? What does that mean?’ ”

Wise, who has competed in Ironman competitions and has 10 years of experience as a driver in NASCAR’s national series, is working with Chip Ganassi Racing “to help with all the drivers’ fitness programs,” McMurray said.  Wise helped put together a plan for McMurray that included six– and four-hour bike rides to train for Mt. Mitchell. McMurray estimated he rode a bike, ran or did something for 90 days – with Sundays being the exception – to get ready for the event.

The 41-year-old Missouri native also likes that he doesn’t lose his family time to participate in cycling. Away from the track, McMurray can get his workout and training in while his two kids are at school. On top of that, he feels riding has a mental benefit when in the car on Sundays.

“As you get fatigued and you got hot, if will make you think clearly and make better decisions and I don’t know that you can measure that,” McMurray said.

McMurray has come a long way after admitting he never felt comfortable on a mountain bike. However, a chat with Kenseth led to McMurray purchasing a Peloton Indoor Bike and riding it for 30 to 45 minutes a day. The end result was that he lost “a bunch of weight” and eventually with the help of Wise started riding a road bike that McMurray “became a little bit obsessed with.”

And while the fitness aspect is very important, McMurray added the social aspect of riding is key too.

“The social aspect of cycling — you can go out for an hour to two-hour ride and it goes by really fast,” McMurray said. “You do a little talking but you are also getting just a really good workout. The amount of calories you can burn and your fitness level goes through the roof and you have a really good time doing it.”