IndyCar Fontana update: Ryan Hunter-Reay leads; title battle for Power, Helio continues

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Indianapolis 500 champ Ryan Hunter-Reay is threatening to win another 500-miler in the Verizon IndyCar Series, leading the season-ending MAV TV 500 at the halfway point.

Meanwhile, Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves continue to battle for the championship. Castroneves is doing all he can to track down Power by running in the Top 3, while Power has gradually moved into the Top 10 after starting from the back.

Power dropped back noticeably following the green flag, opting to race conservatively for the time being. But the Australian eventually started to make slow but steady progress, climbing up to 15th by Lap 20.

Meanwhile up front, pole sitter Castroneves – who entered tonight’s double-points finale down 50 points to Power in the championship – led the first five laps before Juan Pablo Montoya took the lead from him. A short time later, Sonoma winner Scott Dixon also passed the Brazilian, who settled early in third position.

But the third championship contender, Simon Pagenaud, suffered with poor handling on his car and was forced to pit under green at Lap 22 for tires, fuel, and needed chassis adjustment. Unfortunately, that knocked him two laps off the pace and potentially finished his admittedly dim title hopes; he was down 81 points to Power going into tonight.

Montoya pitted from the lead at Lap 35 to start the first wave of stops for the leaders. The Colombian, who won the most recent IndyCar 500-mile race in July at Pocono, cycled back to P1 at Lap 40 with Scott Dixon retaining second.

However, James Hinchcliffe was able to get ahead of Castroneves for third, while Power had continued his patient march up to 12th at this point.

Hinchcliffe was then able to dispatch Dixon for second, and shortly after Lap 50, he started to make life difficult for Montoya at the point before blowing by him on the inside to assume control at Lap 58.

The second wave of stops began around Lap 65, but the Mayor of Hinchtown would stretch his second stint out to Lap 73 before he gave up the lead for service.

That gave the lead back to Montoya, while Castroneves and Ed Carpenter moved up to second and third respectively after great pit stops. As for Power, he made another move forward, climbing up to 10th following this cycle.

At Lap 85, Carpenter – always a threat to win anytime he straps in for an oval race – went past Castroneves on the outside to claim second place. Over the course of the stint, Castroneves dropped back to fifth before Montoya chose to pit once more at Lap 100.

Carpenter gave up the lead to pit at Lap 103, but was called for speeding on pit road and was relegated to 13th after serving the drive-through penalty. With that, Montoya re-assumed control of the race until Lap 120, when Hunter-Reay jumped to the lead.

You can watch the MAVTV 500 NOW on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

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.”