NASCAR’s 2013 Sprint Cup Homestead goodbyes

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Several drivers will be changing teams or facing an uncertain future in the sport after Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400, the season finale for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Here’s a brief look at what they’ve accomplished in their runs with their current squads:

Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing (2001-2013)

Harvick leaves the only Cup team he’s ever known. He’ll start his 466th and last race with RCR on Sunday third in the points, and seeking back-to-back wins to close out his 13-year run. He has 23 career wins and one on Sunday would tie the most he’s achieved with the team in a single season (5 in 2006). Harvick has twice finished third in the points (2010, 2011) with RCR.

Kurt Busch, Furniture Row Racing (2012-2013)

No Cinderella story in the Chase, but the fact Busch has taken the Denver-based operation to another level and raised its stature in the garage is no small accomplishment. A best finish of second in 41 starts and in 2013, his only full season with the team, has 11 top-fives and 16 top-10 finishes. He has recovered from his career wilderness.

Ryan Newman, Stewart-Haas Racing (2009-2013)

Newman will start his 180th race for SHR before both Harvick and Busch join the team in 2014. The Indiana native has three Chase berths and four wins in his tenure; he carried the team this year with Tony Stewart’s injuries costing him his season and with Danica Patrick learning the ropes in her first full-time season.

Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip Racing (2010-2013)

It’s been four methodical seasons for Truex and MWR; never great, but progressive improvements over the last two years in particular. His 144th and last start with MWR comes after one prior win (Sonoma this year) and a myriad of bad circumstances that have seemed to conspire against him in 2013.

Jeff Burton, Richard Childress Racing (2004-2013)

One of NASCAR’s all-time class acts and great quotes, Burton signs off his 10-year run at RCR with his 338th start for the team this weekend to make way for Newman’s arrival. His four wins were achieved from 2006 through 2008, the latter year of which he was a bona fide title contender before fading to sixth at year’s end.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (2006-2013)

He’ll start his 253rd and final, for now, NASCAR Sprint Cup race with EGR and the word “unfulfilled” probably the best descriptor of his NASCAR career. The open-wheel ace has never truly starred in NASCAR except for a handful of races; two road course wins and one Chase appearance all he has to show in his seven full seasons.

Mark Martin, Stewart-Haas Racing (2013)

Martin’s possible final act in Sprint Cup – it’s hard to say for sure as Martin is NASCAR’s equivalent of Brett Favre – has been a good one. Martin served as a mentor and team developer at Michael Waltrip Racing before moving to SHR to fill in for the injured Tony Stewart. He’s run partial seasons since 2005, save for three Hendrick years from 2009 through 2011. Is this finally the end?

Bobby Labonte, too, has already signed off at Phoenix. There may be others from some of the smaller teams, but this is a big list of those leaving their current seats before 2014.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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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.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“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].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

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.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

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.”