NASCAR: Jeff Gordon leads at halfway in Pocono

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With multiple pit strategies in play, Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon currently holds the lead at the halfway mark of the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Moments after the green flag waved to start the race, Joey Logano took the lead from pole sitter Kyle Larson going into Turn 1. A short distance behind them, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch appeared to make contact in Turn 2 while fighting for third place.

The impact sent Keselowski sideways before he made a great save to keep his No. 2 Team Penske Ford off the wall. He dropped back to 12th at the end of Lap 1, but the early loss in track position certainly beat the alternative.

On Lap 9, Jimmie Johnson suffered a right-rear tire failure going into Turn 1 and scraped the outside wall. A debris caution came out shortly afterwards, allowing the team to change the flat. However, Johnson fell one lap down and to dead last in the field – 43rd place.

Kurt Busch, giving up third position, then led a number of drivers to the pits under the caution that included his brother Kyle and Kyle’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth.

Beyond Kurt Busch, most of the Top 10 stayed out for the restart at Lap 13 (Kurt himself took the restart in 21st). Logano held the point, but behind him, Kevin Harvick and Gordon jumped Larson and shuffled him back to fourth.

On Lap 16, Top-10 runner Danica Patrick started to have an apparent tire rub after glancing off the wall previously. Then on Lap 17, a tire failure caused Patrick to hit the wall in Turn 2, triggering the second yellow of the day.

While Patrick’s crew worked to fix her damaged car on pit road, the leaders again decided to stay out while Johnson returned to the lead lap by virtue of the free pass.

Logano powered past Harvick on the outside to keep the lead off the Lap 20 restart, while Larson dropped Gordon for third place.

On Lap 23, Kyle Busch slowed down dramatically from 17th position and after reaching his pit box, his crew popped the hood on his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The car was then pushed to the garage with a terminal engine problem, ending Busch’s day.

Gordon moved past Harvick for second on Lap 27 and was homing in on Logano for the lead until Landon Cassill hit the wall for Caution No. 3 at Lap 29.

At this point, the leaders finally made their first appearances in the pits. Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart each took two tires and won the race off pit road ahead of Logano, Larson and Harvick (who all took four tires).

But after pitting under the first caution, Kurt Busch stayed out to assume the race lead. Busch would hold the point until Lap 45, when he went in for service and gave the lead to Gordon. Leading up to Busch’s second stop, Gordon had passed Logano, Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. to move up to second.

By Lap 50, Gordon was holding a lead of roughly two seconds on Logano. But that edge was erased with another caution, this time for Joe Nemechek, who slapped the wall off Turn 3 after he was tapped on the inside by an oncoming Kasey Kahne.

Kahne aired his frustrations with Nemechek over his radio:

Nemechek also wasn’t thrilled with Kahne:

Another group of drivers including Johnson and Keselowski chose to pit under this yellow. Also pitting were the Richard Petty Motorsports duo of Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, who each had problems – Ambrose parked his car sideways in his pit box, while Almirola had the hood go up on his car for an unspecified issue.

Gordon lined up on the outside for the restart at Lap 56 and quickly shot past Logano to retain his lead. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer took advantage of the restart to make a move and crack the Top 5, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. got around Vickers at Lap 60 for third place.

Bowyer and Larson decided to pit under green at Lap 64. One lap later, the Top 3 – Gordon, Logano, and Earnhardt – chose to come in together.

Kurt Busch inherited the lead again, followed by Kahne, Johnson, Stewart and Kenseth. But as the multiple strategies continued to play out, Johnson, Kahne and Stewart all pitted shortly after Lap 70.

Busch and Kenseth, who last pitted on Lap 44, went to first and second place. But on Lap 74, Kenseth gave up second to pit, and on Lap 75, Busch abandoned the lead to do the same.

A.J. Allmendinger inherited P1 as the leader of a group of cars that pitted on the Nemechek caution. But after that group cycled through, Gordon returned to the top of the leaderboard.

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.”