NASCAR’s offseason has officially taken a turn down Weird Avenue

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The NASCAR-related headlines that have popped up particularly in the last week have very little to do with the on-track product itself.

Yes, there has been news of NASCAR’s new pit road technology system (more here from NASCAR.com), which should be fascinating to watch when it is implemented. Yes, there have been sponsor bits and pieces as Joe Gibbs Racing put together with a new FedEx scheme and Sport Clips for four races. And yes, today, we have had a driver signing with Cole Whitt confirmed as third driver at Front Row Motorsports.

But, as Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass pointed out earlier this week, almost no one is talking about driver/crew chief combinations or planning the season ahead.

Without the usual NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona, the news has instead been a tornado of crazy sweeping through the headlines and making national news beyond the specialist motorsport media.

And that is rarely a good thing, because generally speaking that means it’s not talking about the on-track product itself, but rather some tragedy, bizarre headline or twisted bit of news.

Having witnessed the construction in progress at Daytona Rising last week, it’s great to see how far that is coming as Daytona International Speedway enters its new era. But Richard Childress racing Austin Dillon in an “Escalator Duel” screams “we need cars on track.”

Then we have the curious case of Keith Olbermann, never one to hold back an opinion, and now getting himself into NASCAR by way of the bizarre headlines.

A disclaimer first, Olbermann can be brilliant and spot-on in takes – his tribute to the late Stuart Scott earlier this month was a poignant one.

But back to this case. He first incorrectly called Kurt Busch his brother Kyle Busch in the midst of Kurt’s ongoing testimony/legal situation/inadvertent comedic sideshow with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. After issuing a correction tweet, he then attacked NASCAR fans and called this the “something interesting” moment happening in the “simplest of sports.” He later issued video commentaries on, of all things, a shift from Jeff Gordon’s tricycle race to the Busch saga.

Then six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson got involved. Johnson, you may remember, got involved the last time there was a non-NASCAR regular attempting to appear an expert – when Donovan McNabb stirred the hornet’s nest by saying Johnson wasn’t an athlete after Johnson won his sixth Cup title in 2013. Johnson tweeted to Olbermann, and Olbermann, I’m not sure if this was in jest or serious, then replied back with a “And you are who, sir?” snarky answer.

Oy vey.

There’s a reason I don’t write about golf, or hockey, or football on a regular basis – and that’s because I don’t have enough of a grasp on the respective subject to author a piece coherently and with enough informed analysis to make it readable. I’m not sure why it is predominantly stick-and-ball types then feel they must offer an opinion, however misguided it may be, on NASCAR or other forms of motorsport other than to troll. That’s what Mr. Olbermann is doing here, and it shouldn’t be getting the amount of attention it is.

But because we don’t have cars on track and we’re in the dead of winter, it’s a story.

This all of course is secondary to the biggest story of the NASCAR offseason, and one that isn’t even NASCAR-specific other than it does affect one of its driver, in Kurt (not Kyle) Busch.

The Busch/Patricia Driscoll back-and-forth testimony has been fascinating to read, downright bizarre to analyze and utterly chaotic as it’s taken almost all eyes off the forthcoming season. There’s no point re-linking everything you’ve already read here; if you’ve followed the story, you’ve followed the crazy.

Will there be a resolution soon? One would hope. We’re less than a month out from Daytona Speedweeks, with the Sprint Unlimited and duel races upcoming before the Daytona 500 itself.

On the whole though, my hope is for the specialist NASCAR media to take back the storylines during NASCAR media days in Charlotte later this month, and put the focus, words and headlines on where they should be: the on-track product, coming off one of NASCAR’s more interesting seasons in years.

And by that point, the 2014-2015 Offseason on Weird Avenue will hopefully have run its course.

IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit during lengthy time off

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During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.

The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.

In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver have to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.

Times have changed, though.

Indiana is under a statewide lockdown with the exception of essential services only. Instead of going to PitFit, Dixon is working out at his home on the north side of Indianapolis.

His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throw a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.

“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for. “As we get through this transition, we have 8-10 weeks before these things get lifted.

“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.

“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”

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Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.

“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.

“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”

It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded COVID-19 outbreak has literally sent society underground and locked in while a solution to this fatal virus is found.

Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.

“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.

“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30 and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”

Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.

Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.

“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.

“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”

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Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.

This is a time to keep his family safe.

“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.

“It’s a new thing for everybody.”

For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.

These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.

There won’t be time-off in-between races.

“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.

“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.

“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.

“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”

Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.

The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 pandemic will end.

“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.

“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”

That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.

“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.

“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500