End of multiple eras tonight at Homestead-Miami

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As noted earlier this week by my colleague, Tony DiZinno, there were multiple drivers in today’s Ford Ecoboost 400 that are set to jump to new squads in 2014 or may have just put the final period on their Sprint Cup careers a few hours ago.

We’ve already talked tonight about Kevin Harvick (who is leaving Richard Childress Racing and going to Stewart-Haas Racing), so let’s take a look at how the rest of these particular competitors fared at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the 2013 season finale.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex (pictured) completed his run with Michael Waltrip Racing nicely, posting a solid fourth-place finish and bringing a tough autumn for himself to a nice conclusion. Furniture Row Racing and its No. 78 car now beckon for the New Jersey native, but he made sure to thank his MWR team for supporting him over the last four seasons.

“I just can’t thank all these guys enough – [team owners] Michael [Waltrip] and Rob [Kauffman] and [sponsor] NAPA and Toyota and everybody that has made it possible the last four years to have such a good time…,” he said. “All the things we did together were special. [I’m] going to miss these guys and hopefully see them around a lot next year.”

Ryan Newman

Chase contender Newman finished 17th in his final effort for Stewart-Haas Racing before he takes over the No. 31 at Richard Childress Racing next year. He led the three-car SHR contingent at Homestead this evening in an altogether quiet effort.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya, a Miami-area resident, finished off his seven-year stay in Sprint Cup with an 18th-place performance on his home track that wasn’t anything particularly special. But there won’t be much time to ponder the end of his stock car career (for now), as he’ll be preparing for his IndyCar homecoming with Team Penske.

His future boss, Penske Racing’s Tim Cindric, has given Montoya a helpful reminder this evening:

Mark Martin

Time will tell if Sunday was truly the end for Martin, who has not dropped the R-word – retirement – but is not planning to compete next season. The Arkansas native, who has won 40 Sprint Cup races since his Cup career began all the way back in 1981, finished 19th for Stewart-Haas at Homestead.

Beloved just about universally by fellow racers and fans alike, Martin – the greatest driver to never win a Cup championship – will be missed. On Twitter this evening, he saluted those that have followed him over the years:

Kurt Busch

Busch helped the single-car Furniture Row team become a key player in the sport after making the Chase this year. In return, the team gave Busch a chance to rehabilitate his career.

So while Busch finished a sub-par 21st in his final race with FRR before he goes to Stewart-Haas, “the Outlaw” said he would cherish his time with the Denver-based squad.

“They gave everything they had to give and you can’t ask for anything more,” he said. “I made a lot of friends with this Furniture Row team and will always look back at this season with a special fondness.”

Jeff Burton

Burton, who has yet to announce his 2014 plans, finished 23rd in his last run with the No. 31 RCR Chevy. Reading the tea leaves, you’d think Burton will be back next year in a part-time capacity. The question is: Where?

Ken Schrader

Short-track legend Schrader capped off his Cup career with a 34th-place finish tonight.The 58-year-old had been a part-timer for several seasons. Final stat line in Cup: 4 wins, 64 Top-5s, 184 Top-10s in 763 starts.

Dave Blaney

With Michael Annett set to replace him in the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing machine, Blaney has indicated that he may spend 2014 doing more sprint car racing while pulling for his son, Ryan, as he rises up the NASCAR ranks. Blaney finished 38th.

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.”