One year ago, Auto Club Speedway broke Will Power’s heart. But in tonight’s IndyCar Series season finale at the two-mile oval in Southern California, the Team Penske pilot got his payback.
Power dominated the middle stages of the MAV TV 500 and then rocketed to the front with the laps winding down. He would go on to claim what he called “the most satisfying win of [his] life” by 1.5 seconds over defending race champion Ed Carpenter.
Early in last year’s IndyCar finale at ACS, Power lost control of his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and slammed into the wall, opening the door for Ryan Hunter-Reay to overtake him for the series championship by the end of the 500-mile race.
But on this night, Power got to experience the jubilation he had hoped to enjoy last fall in Fontana.
“That is the most satisfying thing I have ever done, and I wanted to do it so badly all year,” Power told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis in Victory Lane. “In the early [oval races] I was kind of conservative and wanted to finish every lap. But this time, I was going for it.”
Along the way, Power also had to deal with getting a new visor on his helmet in the middle of a caution period. But Power believed that he had the car to make the ground back up.
“I knew we had a very quick car, and I didn’t care – I just said, ‘Let’s fix this. We can win this,'” said Power. “This is just the most satisfying thing. I’m so stoked for [sponsor] Verizon and it’s a great way to end the season.”
With 20 laps left, Sebastien Bourdais hit the wall going down the backstretch to bring out a caution period. One lap later, Power decided to go to the pits for service in preparation of the last dash to the finish.
Charlie Kimball and J.R. Hildebrand were both ahead of Power when the green came back out with 14 laps remaining, but Power quickly dusted both Hondas to take the lead once again.
Shortly afterwards, the yellow re-emerged as Kimball’s motor let go and Hildebrand came to a stop with an apparent mechanical failure. When the race went back to green with eight laps left, Power pulled away and left Carpenter and Tony Kanaan to duke it out for the runner-up spot, a battle Carpenter would eventually take.
Power finished the 2013 IndyCar season on a high note, notching three victories in the final five races (Sonoma, Race 2 at Houston, and tonight’s triumph in Fontana).
As for Carpenter, he once again showed why he’s perhaps the top oval pilot in the IndyCar paddock, putting up a steady runner-up that marks his best result and third Top-5 of the year. He has now finished either first or second in the last three-season ending races.
Meanwhile, as Power was putting the finishing touches on a victory he’ll clearly cherish for some time to come, Scott Dixon was locking up his third career IndyCar Series championship with a fifth-place finish. Dixon finished just one spot ahead of his title rival, Helio Castroneves, but the Brazilian fell one lap down toward the end of the race; Dixon wound up earning the title by a 27-point margin.
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.”