Talladega announces faster qualifying formats; Truck race start time moved up

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Talladega Superspeedway is fast, but when it comes to qualifying at the upcoming Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck races there (Oct. 17-19), the fast will get even faster.

The track announced Thursday that it will implement “more rapid qualifying formats” for both the GEICO 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and fred’s 250 Powered By Coca-Cola NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races.

“It’s appropriate that our facility, which was built as a palace of speed, will play host to this new qualifying format where achieving speed quickly will be pivotal,” said Talladega chairman Grant Lynch. “There will be intense pressure on the drivers and teams to make their laps count, and it’s going to be one heck of a chess match to see the tactics for success. We know our fans will enjoy it.”

According to a track media release, “Both national series’ qualifying will take on a more fast-paced look that should resemble race conditions and promises to bring out the best in the competitors.”

“This revision in national series qualifying at Talladega should be more exciting for our fans,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition and Racing Development. “It will feature a more accelerated pace, provide greater opportunity for team strategy to come into play and it should more closely resemble actual racing conditions.”

Here’s a breakdown of the changes in qualifying for both series:

  • Three rounds of qualifying with the first round divided into two groups of competitors based on a random draw held prior to the event. The first round is five minutes in length for each group.
  • The 24 drivers who post the fastest single lap speed from either of the first qualifying round groups will advance to the second round. The remaining competitors will be sorted based on their speed posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.
  • There will be a 10-minute break after the completion of the first qualifying round and the 24 remaining competitors who advance to the second round will have their times reset.
  • The second qualifying round is five minutes in length and the 12 eligible competitors who post the fastest single lap speed will advance to the third and final round.
  • The fastest remaining competitors will earn positions 13-24 based on their fastest single lap speed posted in qualifying in descending order.
  • Following a five minute break, the 12 eligible competitors who advance to the final round will have their posted speeds reset.
  • The final qualifying round is five minutes in length and the fastest single lap speed will determine positions 1-12 in descending order.

The changes in qualifying could wind up being crucial for drivers in the Chase, as that weekend’s race is the sixth in the playoffs and will serve as the cutoff event for the Contender Round, which will slice the number of championship-eligible drivers from 12 to eight after the race.

Trucks qualifying will be Friday, Oct., 17, at 5:30 pm ET, while Sprint Cup qualifying will be Oct. 18 at 4:30 pm ET.

In addition to the qualifying changes, the track has moved up the start of the Oct. 18 fred’s 250 Truck Series race to a 1 pm ET start.

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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.”