Denny Hamlin sets track record to take Food City 500 pole at Bristol

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Denny Hamlin spoiled the bid by Penske Racing teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski to share the starting front row for the third straight race during Friday’s Sprint Cup qualifying for Sunday’s Food City 500.

Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry set a new Bristol Motor Speedway qualifying record with a speed of 129.991 mph (at 14.761 seconds).

It marked was the third straight Sprint Cup race this season that a new track qualifying mark has been set.

“It’s fast, faster than I ever imagined going around this track,” Hamlin said. “Darian (crew chief Darian Grubb) just made an excellent call with our adjustments and the team stepped up. … We thought it was going to be one and done for us, one good effort in that final round.”

Keselowski went out for a last-ditch attempt and rallied to knock off Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth, from the outside pole with a lap of 129.965 mph (14.764 seconds).

“Denny did a great job,” Keselowski said. “My team did a great job and another front row start. That’s always good at Bristol because track position is important.

“But more important than track position is pit stall selection, so we’ll get a good pit stall out of that and go racing to the front.”

Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano have owned pole qualifying in the last two races. Keselowski took the pole and Logano was second at Phoenix, while it was reversed last week at Las Vegas, with Logano qualifying first and Keselowski second.

Kenseth will start Sunday’s race third (129.073 mph), Logano fourth (128.830) and Marcos Ambrose came through with a stout (128.727) effort.

Current Sprint Cup Series leader and Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 14th (128.271).

The news was not so good for four drivers who were forced to take provisionals to make the race: Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, Travis Kvapil and Ryan Truex.

Here’s the starting grid and each driver’s qualifying speed for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Food City 500:

Row 1

Denny Hamlin 129.991, Brad Keselowski 129.965

Row 2

Matt Kenseth 129.073, Joey Logano 128.830

Row 3

Marcos Ambrose 128.727, Jeff Gordon 128.245

Row 4

Kyle Busch 128.159, Greg Biffle 127.946

Row 5

Ryan Newman 127.801, Kasey Kahne 127.690

Row 6

Jimmie Johnson 127.385, Carl Edwards 127.073

Row 7

Kurt Busch 128.322, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 128.271

Row 8

Clint Bowyer 128.245, David Gilliland 128.236

Row 9

Jamie McMurray 128.168, Cole Whitt 127.929

Row 10

David Ragan 127.903, Kyle Larson 127.792

Row 11

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 127.682, AJ Allmendinger 127.648

Row 12

Aric Almirola 127.605, Michael McDowell 127.605

Row 13

Casey Mears 127.597, Austin Dillon 127.529

Row 14

Kevin Harvick 127.444, Paul Menard 127.436

Row 15

Martin Truex Jr. 127.351, Justin Allgaier 127.343

Row 16

Landon Cassill 127.182, Josh Wise 127.174

Row 17

Alex Bowman 127.165, Michael Annett 126.896

Row 18

Reed Sorenson 126.645, Danica Patrick 126.628

Row 19

Tony Stewart 126.545, Brian Vickers 126.445

Row 20

Travis Kvapil 126.303, Ryan Truex 125.363

Row 21

Parker Kligerman 124.460, Joe Nemechek 122.537

Row 22

Timmy Hill 122.084

Did not qualify: David Reutimann, Dave Blaney

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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.”