Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 17 — Bubba Wallace wins 4 races, finishes 3rd in Trucks, but has no ride for 2015

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MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December. We kicked things off Thursday with No. 20, the announcement that the Nationwide Series will be renamed and rebranded the Xfinity Series starting in 2015. Friday, we looked at No. 19, the 2015 Induction Class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Saturday, we brought you No. 18, the upset regular season wins from Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger.

Today, we focus on No. 17, Bubba Wallace’s breakout season in the Camping World Truck Series.

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. had a breakout season in 2014, winning four races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Not only that, he also had nine top-5 and 14 top-10 finishes, two poles and ultimately finished a very strong third in the final standings, just 34 points behind champ Matt Crafton.

After such a season, you’d think Wallace would be a cinch to either come back for a third season in the Trucks, or possibly be promoted to the Xfinity Series by either Joe Gibbs Racing or the affiliated Kyle Busch Racing.

If so, you’d have thought wrong.

Bubba won’t be back with either JGR or KBR. The latter could not find enough sponsorship to keep the 21-year-old driver in the Trucks. Likewise, JGR couldn’t find enough sponsorship to promote Wallace to the Xfinity Series in 2015.

How that happens is hard to understand.

Wallace is one of the most charismatic rising stars in the NASCAR world. He has immense talent, is already a big fan and media favorite, and would appear to have a very successful future ahead of him.

But as of this writing, Bubba is without a job.

With no ride likely for 2015, he recently requested and received his release from his contract with JGR, after KBR told him he was not in the team’s plans for 2015.

Where he winds up — if he winds up anywhere — is anyone’s guess.

Rumors have floated recently that Wallace may be heading to an Xfinity Series ride in 2015 with Roush Fenway Racing – to become teammates with Chris Buescher, Ryan Reed and veteran Elliott Sadler – although neither Wallace nor RFR have said much about a potential deal in the works.

Still, you would think sponsors would be flocking to back Wallace. He’s the first African-American driver since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott to capture a NASCAR race in nearly 50 years (Fall 2013 at Martinsville), and then he won four races in 2014.

He’s a good looking kid, graduated from NASCAR’s vaunted Drive For Diversity driver development program for minorities and females, has developed great media skills already, and has a compelling back story on his rise through the racing ranks to get where he got to today.

Still, sponsorship is lacking for a guy who should be a slam dunk when it comes to attracting sponsors with fat wallets and money to burn.

I remember ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty telling me at lunch about seven years ago that no matter how good an upcoming African-American driver may be, he’s always going to have a tougher time getting sponsorship solely because of the color of his skin.

You would think, seven years later, that would not be the case. Yet other drivers, many with less talent, have rides for 2015 and Wallace does not.

And if the RFR rumors prove false, will Bubba be forced to sit along the sidelines for next season, maybe having only a few one-off, fill-in rides at best?

When Wallace won the 2014 season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it was a bittersweet victory. He did it once again for KBM, but it would also be the last time he’d do so – at least for the foreseeable future (providing KBM would bring him back some time down the road).

“I’m not sure what the future brings for me, but this is one hell of a way to go out,” Wallace said after his Homestead win. “I came home with five wins (four this season) and a hell of a season.”

MORE: Bubba Wallace wins season finale at Homestead.

We can only hope Wallace truly does wind up at RFR in at least a part-time – if not a full-time – Xfinity Series ride in 2015.

Or, if he returns to the Truck Series with another team, that would be fine too. Maybe some major sponsor will come to its senses and take a chance on backing Wallace.

Because if such a sponsor does, I’m willing to bet Wallace will give him a great return on his investment and pay dividends that could potentially include a championship.

The kid is that good. And just like it was when he was breaking into NASCAR, he’s back to square one: he just needs a good break.

Let’s hope break No. 2 is right around the corner because Wallace, NASCAR and fans deserve it.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

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.”