Sprint Cup: Brad Keselowski leading at halfway in New Hampshire

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As today’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is moving into its middle stages, Brad Keselowski is taking control.

Keselowski started 10th on a restart at Lap 119 after taking four tires under the preceding caution. But in just 21 laps, he went all the way to the lead and holds the point at halfway over Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano.

Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green flag, but on Lap 7, Johnson suffered a left-rear tire failure and had to go to the pits under green.

Johnson came back to the track in 42nd place and one lap off the pace. Then on Lap 13, things went from bad to worse when Johnson had a second left-rear tire failure that sent him spinning into the wall.

Under caution, the Top 15 drivers on track chose to stay out. However, a group of more than 15 drivers chose to take advantage of the yellow to make an early stop.

The green came back out at Lap 21, and Kyle Busch proceeded to settle in as the leader until Lap 63, when Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin got past him for P1 down the backstretch into Turn 3.

Green flag stops began just a few circuits shy of Lap 75, with Hamlin giving up the lead for service on Lap 74. However, Hamlin regained the lead by Lap 82 when the pit cycle played out among those that chose to go in on Lap 18.

On Lap 89, Keselowski – yesterday’s Nationwide Series winner – managed to get under Hamlin in Turn 3 and take P1. When the first green pit cycle had been completed, he was down two seconds to the leader.

Taking advantage of a car with great acceleration in the middle of the corners, Keselowski began stretching out his lead. The gap eventually grew to more than three seconds before the caution came out at Lap 113 for debris – the end of a 92-lap stretch under green.

Keselowski led the leaders to the pits under yellow, but while most of them decided to take two tires, Keselowski opted for four tires instead and fell all the way to 10th. Also, Kurt Busch was unable to get to his stall for service since Hamlin was coming out of his own; the Outlaw had to go back a second time and tumbled to 20th on the pylon.

Kyle Busch won the race out of the pits but Larson stayed out to get the lead on the restart at Lap 119. Larson was able to turn back a challenge from Busch in the opening laps of the stint, and on Lap 122, Kenseth was able to take second place behind the Sprint Cup rookie.

Kenseth moved in on Larson over the next several laps and on Lap 127, he moved to the inside of Larson down the frontstretch and cleared him off Turn 2 for the lead. But shortly after, Keselowski dropped Larson to third, continuing his march back up front on those four fresh tires.

Keselowski drew to within a car’s length of Kenseth, whose car was spotted with a piece of debris stuck to its grille. Then, on Lap 139, Keselowski went to the inside and re-claimed the lead while Kenseth used the airflow to knock his debris off the car.

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.”