Nico Rosberg has never looked weaker in this F1 title fight

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Nico Rosberg has seen his fortunes take a dramatic turn for the worse over the past four months. After winning the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in July, he seemed to be on top of the world and well in the fight for his maiden F1 world championship. Since then though, he has grown increasingly weak, and is now staring down the barrel of a huge defeat to Lewis Hamilton at the top of the standings.

Rosberg’s win at Hockenheim capped off something of a perfect 10-day period. In that time, he had got married, seen Germany win the FIFA World Cup, signed a new long-term deal with Mercedes and scored pole position on home soil. By winning his home race, he had increased his championship lead to 14 points and appeared to have Hamilton under the thumb.

Yet Lewis has since found his feet after a difficult run of bad luck. Ever since the Belgian Grand Prix that saw the two drivers clash out on track, Hamilton has been in fine fettle, with Rosberg left reeling. He may have 10 second-place finishes in 2014, but Lewis has 10 wins – that’s a 70 point difference just there.

Let’s see how attentive you have been this season. Two questions:

1. When has Lewis Hamilton fought back and passed Nico Rosberg for a race win this season?

2. When has Nico Rosberg fought back and passed Lewis Hamilton for a race win this season?

Starting with question one, the answer is on three occasions: Italy, Japan and Austin. At each of those events, Hamilton was left with a task of catching Rosberg, and he managed it. In Bahrain, he started from second place on the grid before eventually beating Rosberg at the finish, and he also managed to beat the German driver to third place in Hungary despite starting from the pit lane.

The point is that Lewis has fought his way back into races many times this season. Even when Rosberg won in Germany, Lewis had charged from P20 to the podium. They have been performances worthy of a world champion.

Now to question two. The answer? Never. Not once has Rosberg fought his way past Hamilton for a race win this season. For three of his four wins, Nico has started ahead of Lewis, with the fourth coming in Australia when the Briton retired in the early stages of the race.

But has Rosberg had the opportunity to do exactly that? Yes. In fact, he has squandered nine chances to pass or re-pass Hamilton and take a race win or big result this year – Malaysia, Bahrain, China, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Russia and Austin. It is not the makings of a champion, that is for sure.

As the season has wore on, Rosberg has been made to look all the more average. Although the margins between Hamilton and himself are by no means great at the checkered flag, they are still enough. When Lewis has been presented the chance to outpace and beat Nico, he has done it. Rosberg simply hasn’t.

So with two races to go in the 2014 F1 season, Nico needs to change that. His hopes appear to be precariously pinned on Lewis hitting trouble in Abu Dhabi and retiring from the race, allowing the German driver to claim a controversial double points victory. It would be an incredibly hollow way to win a championship, and would spark outrage in the F1 community. However, it seems to be his best chance.

If Rosberg suffers yet another defeat in Brazil next weekend, he will trail Hamilton by at least 31 points heading to Abu Dhabi. That means Lewis could afford to finish third in the final race with Nico winning and still win the title. In fact, Lewis can finish second in both races and will be champion by three points, assuming Rosberg wins at Interlagos and Yas Marina.

Of course, that isn’t Lewis’ style. He’ll be gunning to finish the season with seven straight wins. Should he do so, his winning margin at the end of the year would be at least 47 points, making it look like a very comfortable win indeed – and in reality, it has been quite comfortable for Lewis in recent weeks.

Nico Rosberg must turn it around now, although it may already be too late as his fire for the 2014 drivers’ championship begins to fizzle out.

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.”