Matt Kenseth took the lead from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch off a restart with 22 laps to go and went on to claim his sixth checkered flag of the season in the Chase-opening GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway – a race that had its start delayed by more than an hour and also featured a red flag period of more than five hours because of rain.
After the extended red flag, only the diehards remained on a chilly Sunday night to see Kenseth once again prove his prowess on the intermediate ovals. With tonight’s triumph, the former Cup champion now has four wins this season on 1.5-mile tracks, which are a major component of the ten-race Chase.
Coming to the restart, Kenseth was second but was able to keep up with Busch on the inside. When the pack got to Turn 1, Kenseth was helped from behind by Kevin Harvick, and was able to get past his JGR compatriot. That would prove to be the big moment of the race, as Busch was unable to reel Kenseth back in.
“I thought with the conditions tonight, we were going to be off a little bit but [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] did it again, as well as this whole team behind me,” Kenseth said to ESPN in Victory Lane.
“We gotta thank Kyle and [teammate] Denny [Hamlin] as well – we had a really good test here last week and it really showed up today. Also, Kevin gave me a great push on that last restart…We were a little too tight there at the end, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get Kyle. But I’m glad we got it out front.”
Kyle Busch also chalked up Kenseth’s winning pass to Harvick as well.
“That’s 1,600 horsepower versus 800,” he said. “…Kurt [Busch] didn’t get a good enough restart to push me forward and keep us side-by-side going into Turn 1. But they beat us, and it’s a great night for Joe Gibbs Racing to start the Chase like this.”
Harvick would go on to finish third, with Kurt Busch rallying for a fourth-place finish after falling down a lap earlier this afternoon because of a pit road speeding violation. Jimmie Johnson had his own issues on pit road today, but was able to come home fifth.
“The next-to-last run, we got ourselves back in the thick of things and unfortunately, we just didn’t have the speed there for the final segment to go race for the win,” Johnson said. “But from a jack failing to the call on pit road with the lug nut not supposedly on – a variety of issues – it was a great comeback.”
Jeff Gordon fell a lap down thanks to a flat rear tire following a restart with 95 laps to go, but was able to catch a yellow late and then charge to a sixth-place result. Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the two lone non-Chase drivers in the Top 10, followed in seventh and eighth respectively. Clint Bowyer squeezed out a ninth-place finish, and Ryan Newman wound up 10th.
More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.
Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.
“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.
“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”
This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.
“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.
“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”
This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.
“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”
At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.
“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”
Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.
“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”
Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.
“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.
“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”