NASCAR Nationwide Series 2013 Season Review

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On one hand, the NASCAR Nationwide Series served its purpose with young drivers like 2013 champion Austin Dillon and 21-year-old Kyle Larson doing well this past year and now preparing to move up to Sprint Cup in 2014.

But on the other hand, Sprint Cup regulars continued to dominate, with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski alone winning a combined 19 of 33 races as part of their teams’ battle for the owner’s championship. And one could argue that duel took some heat from Dillon’s tight race for the driver’s title with fellow NNS regular Sam Hornish Jr.

As a result, the season had a bit of the “same ol’, same ol'” feel even though the aforementioned Dillon, Larson and Hornish, along with others such as Regan Smith, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney, did their best to keep things interesting.

Dillon’s championship came despite him not being able to win, making him the first NASCAR national series champion to earn a title without a victory. Nonetheless, he was able to make dogged consistency (13 Top-5s, 22 Top-10s, and just one DNF) work for him. Some can argue that it was unspectacular, but no one can say it wasn’t effective.

As for Hornish, he came up just three points shy of what would have been a breakthrough championship for him. The former IndyCar champion has impressed many people in his bid to maintain a place in stock car racing, and it’s been reported that he has options for next season. But a title could’ve made his off-season job hunting much easier.

Both drivers, however, found themselves at times having to conduct their championship runs almost in secret. That was because JGR’s No. 54 Toyota and Penske’s No. 22 Ford – the two teams involved in the aforementioned race for the owner’s title – were the class of the field in 2013.

The contrast was noticeable between the two sides. Busch won all 12 of the No. 54 team’s victories in 2013, while the No. 22 had four different drivers take it to Victory Lane: Keselowski (six wins), Joey Logano (three), Allmendinger (two), and Blaney (one).

In the end, the team effort won out. A sixth-place finish from Logano in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was enough for the Penske No. 22 to win the owner’s battle by a single point over the JGR No. 54 and Busch, which finished third that day.

Meanwhile, Kyle Larson completed a solid first year of Nationwide racing to claim Rookie of the Year honors. Larson went winless, but notched 9 Top-5s and 17 Top-10s.

His ROTY award also marked a milestone for NASCAR’s sometimes-maligned “Drive for Diversity” program as Larson became the first of the program’s graduates to earn ROTY honors in a national series.

It was as good an ending to the year as Larson could’ve hoped for after how ugly it started for him – and many others.

In one of the most violent accidents in NNS history, last-lap contact between Smith and Keselowski coming to the checkered flag at Daytona triggered a horrendous crash that had Larson get airborne and then slam into the catch fence – the impact launching chunks of debris into the frontstretch grandstands.

More than 30 fans were injured, with many of them requiring hospitalization. Thankfully, all involved survived a situation that could’ve ended up much worse.

Other memorable moments included:

  • Allmendinger’s revival: Roger Penske gave him another chance and the ‘Dinger did well with it, earning two wins on the road courses at Road America and Mid-Ohio. Not long after, the former Champ Car star had his ticket back to Cup in hand with a full-time drive at JTG Daugherty.
  • BK1000: Winning a series’ 1,000th race is obviously a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing, so Keselowski should have fond memories whenever he sees his trophy from Richmond this past fall. Not that it didn’t come without controversy; runner-up Brian Scott maintained that Keselowski jumped the final restart with six laps to go. Replays appeared to back Scott’s argument, but NASCAR didn’t make a call on Keselowski.
  • Blaney’s upset: 19-year-old Ryan Blaney couldn’t have a celebratory shot of Kentucky bourbon following his first career NNS win in September at Kentucky Speedway. But we figure he didn’t mind that much. A string of late accidents kept setting up Blaney to lose the race on restarts, but the son of NASCAR/sprint car veteran Dave Blaney maintained his poise and was able to outlast Dillon in the final laps.
  • Could we speed this up?: A multi-car crash with 17 laps to go in the Homestead finale somehow led to a 12-lap caution period that saw numerous restarts called off as workers tried to clean up the mess. NASCAR’s refusal to throw the red flag was a surprise, and it didn’t help Hornish, who had only five laps to work with when the green flag did come out. Hornish finished eighth, four spots ahead of Dillon, but he was still three points shy of the NNS crown.

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.”