NASCAR: Ty Dillon ready to make Sprint Cup debut on Sunday

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Ty Dillon’s trying to track down Chase Elliott and Regan Smith in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. But this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, that won’t be his only job.

In addition to running tonight’s NNS race at AMS, Dillon will also make his Sprint Cup debut Sunday night in the No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport – which has a partnership with his team in the NNS, Richard Childress Racing.

Yesterday, Dillon qualified 29th for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500. Running with the big dogs is clearly special for Dillon, who dubbed it “a huge moment for me and my career.”

But he doesn’t think that the Cup drive will detract from his NNS focus.

“I think it’s only going to be a positive for my Nationwide program to be in the Cup race this year,” said Dillon, a former winner at AMS in the Camping World Truck Series (2012). “It will slow everything down for me. I hadn’t been here in two years, and the last time I was here, I won.

“I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grip on this race track. The way our Nationwide team is performing right now, I think we have a great opportunity of winning a race and really piling on some points for this championship.”

As for how AMS became the site for his first Cup race, Dillon said that he and grandfather/boss Richard Childress got together at the beginning of the year and picked ‘four or five tracks” where they felt confident about him running well.

“[Atlanta] was one of the tracks on the list,” Dillon said. “We didn’t really talk about it very much during most of the season, and then things kind of came together. Here recently, we got the sponsorship to make things happen.”

Dillon also said that depending on sponsorship, he was hopeful to get a few more Cup starts this year.

“I know we were already planning on hopefully doing some stuff next year,” he said. “This year is kind of an open book…I think it’s wherever my grandfather feels like he can throw me in and we will have a great opportunity.”

But while his future Cup plans remain to be determined, Dillon knows what he has to do on the Nationwide side of things: Shrink the points gap between himself and the two JR Motorsports drivers, Elliott and Smith.

Two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, a power steering problem relegated Dillon to a 19th-place finish that helped increase his deficit. Dillon recovered last weekend with a fourth at Bristol, but he’s still down 30 points in the standings to Elliott.

“I think we just have to continue to run in the Top-5, and hope for some mistakes from those guys because that is what has put us behind,” Dillon said of the situation. “We were only 12 points out two weeks ago…We have been fast everywhere we just had a couple of mechanical issues.

“We are going to continue to run up front and have opportunities to win the race like we did last week at Bristol and let those guys fold.”

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.”