Denny Hamlin on Brad Keselowski: “It’s tough to win a championship if nobody likes you” (VIDEO)

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Denny Hamlin sits with Joey Logano atop the Chase Grid going into the Eliminator Round finale this Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Wanting to join him on the good side of the cutoff for advancement to the Sprint Cup Championship Race is Brad Keselowski, who finished third at Texas last weekend and also got into his second post-race scrap in four weeks with Jeff Gordon.

Hamlin was involved in the first one at Charlotte Motor Speedway, when he took umbrage with Keselowski’s hard racing over the final two laps of that race by brake-checking him on the cool-down lap. Hamlin eventually chased Keselowski through the garage, but it was Matt Kenseth who ultimately got to the Team Penske driver first.

Needless to say, Keselowski isn’t likely to be on many of his peers’ Christmas card lists. But he could be up for being paid back during Sunday’s race at Phoenix if the likes of Kenseth, Gordon, or Kevin Harvick (whose pushing Keselowski in the back helped ignite the Texas brawl) are having a bad day on the track.

In Hamlin’s eyes, Keselowski’s aggressive driving tactics are not the problem. The problem is he isn’t showing any sympathy after he uses them.

“He has a right to feel the way he feels, but when there’s no accountability…they’re gonna be upset with him,” Hamlin said during today’s NASCAR teleconference. “You just have to expect it. It’s tough to win a championship if nobody likes you. That is going to be a very tough task.

“I think he’s gonna have to watch the mirror, and that’s a tough way to race. I learned that the very hard way, but everyone’s on their own agenda. Brad’s got his agenda and he’s entitled to that.

“We’ve all gotta do the best we can but if we have a bad day, this is typically the point of the season where people get back at each other if they feel like they’ve been done wrong.”

Hamlin went on to say that while Keselowski doesn’t have to apologize for who he is, his lack of remorse regarding his contact with Gordon during the first green-white-checkered attempt at Texas (which caused Gordon to fall back before he spun with a tire failure and finishing 29th as a result) escalated the post-race situation.

“That just lights a fire in your insides, especially when you’ve had a bad day and your season could’ve rested on that one mistake or whatever you wanna call it,” he said. “If Brad would have talked to Jeff and said, ‘Man, I was going for a hole, it’s my only chance and I’m really sorry it cut your tire,’ I think that goes totally different. Instead, it was, ‘Meh, oh well, sorry, bud, you left the hole.'”

To Hamlin, it’s that lack of respect that has made Keselowski a lone wolf in the garage. Hamlin knows all too well what it’s like to be regarded as such.

In 2007, Hamlin had a heart-to-heart with Kyle Petty following an incident between the two at Dover that saw Hamlin put Petty in the wall.

While Hamlin sat inside his own damaged car in the garage, Petty pulled down his window net and swatted Hamlin’s helmet. And during their sit-down, Petty informed Hamlin of how scores of drivers had called him with praise for that gesture.

“Immediately, I was like, ‘Wait a minute – no other drivers like me?,'” Hamlin recalled. “You know, some people care about that and some people don’t. But immediately, I was like, ‘Well, that’s not something I want. I don’t want to be a driver that has zero respect from my peers. I want to be someone who other drivers look up to.'”

Right now, Hamlin doesn’t see Keselowski being that guy, even though he’s won a Sprint Cup title and races for one of the top teams in the sport.

“He’s got a lot of good things going for him. But in my opinion, and I want to stress my opinion…what I think is he’s just got to work on the respect factor from his peers,” he said.

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.”