UPDATED: Denny Hamlin smashes Martinsville track records, promises a win Sunday

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To say Denny Hamlin wanted to prove he’s okay after missing last Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Fontana due to a piece of metal in his eye is putting it mildly.

In his first time in a race car since last Saturday’s final practice at Auto Club Speedway, only to miss the actual race itself due to the eye issue, Hamlin shattered both ends of the Martinsville track record during Friday afternoon’s pre-qualifying practice session.

Hamlin recorded a one-lap burst of 100.021 mph at 18.932 seconds, both firsts around the .526-mile bullring — the first time over 100 mph and the first time under 19 seconds.

After practice, Hamlin made it very clear what he plans on doing Saturday.

“I’m going to win it this weekend, I promise,” he said.

Hamlin broke the old track mark — which he also owned — of 19.013 seconds (99.595 mph), set in last fall’s qualifying session.

“It wasn’t a goal to go out there and be first in practice,” Hamlin said afterward. “We didn’t set out to — of course that’s a goal for everyone, but it’s not something that we put extra effort on, especially practice.  It obviously shows that we’re very capable of winning the race this weekend and I’m pretty sure we will.”

While an outstanding effort, it’s not completely surprising as Hamlin is a four-time winner in his career at Martinsville. And what better way for him to totally put last Sunday’s controversy behind him than to win No. 5 this coming Sunday, right?

Second fastest was Hamlin’s former teammate, Joey Logano (99.313 mph), followed by Matt Kenseth (99.173), Clint Bowyer (99.147) and Tony Stewart (99.126).

Sixth through 10th fastest were Jimmie Johnson (99.100), Marcos Ambrose (98.981), Kyle Busch (98.903), Paul Menard (98.784) and Brian Vickers (98.687).

Hamlin completed just 30 laps, a lot fewer total laps than most of the 43 other drivers that took part in Friday’s practice.

Paul Menard and Brad Keselowski had the most at 67 laps apiece. Richard Childress Racing Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon logged 59 laps, while eight-time winner Jimmie Johnson made 57 revolutions.

The slowest driver in the session was Michael Annett, whose best single lap was only 94.784 mph (19.978 seconds).

Here’s the full list of driver speeds in Friday’s solo pre-qualifying practice session at Martinsville Speedway:

1 Denny Hamlin 100.021 mph

2 Joey Logano 99.313

3 Matt Kenseth 99.173

4 Clint Bowyer 99.147

5 Tony Stewart 99.126
6 Jimmie Johnson 991.100

7 Marcos Ambros 98.981

8 Kyle Bsch 98.903

9 Paul Menard 98.784

10 Brian Vickers 98.687

 

11 Ryan Newman 98.671

12 Jeff Gordon 98.615

13 Jamie McMurray 98.599

14 Casey Mears 98.579

15 Carl Edwards 98.400

 

16 Kurt Busch 98.374

17 Justin Allgaier 98.328

18 AJ Allmendinger 98.318

19 Kevin Harvick 98.216

20 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 98.170

 

21 Aric Almirola 98.145

22 Greg Biffle 98.109

23 Brad Keselowski 98.023

24 Kyle Larson 97.962

25 David Reutimann 97.901

 

26 David Gilliland 97.876

27 Kasey Kahne 97.871

28 Martin Truex Jr. 97.850

29 Danica Patrick 97.835

30 Michael McDowell 97.689

 

31 David Ragan 97.674

32 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 97.623

33 David Stremme 97.568

34 Austin Dillon 97.528

35 Landon Cassill 97.518

 

36 Josh Wise 97.192

37 Ryan Truex 97.018

38 Travis Kvapil 96.968

39 Reed Sorenson 96.815

40 Alex Bowman 96.711

 

41 Cole Whitt 96.332

42 Parker Kligerman 96.234

43 Joe Nemechek 95.961

44 Michael Annett 94.784

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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.”