Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty seek better consistency, leadership in 2015

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For the first time in four years, AJ Allmendinger is coming into the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with a carryover from the previous season, and is brimming with newfound confidence.

The 2011 season marked his third and last with Richard Petty Motorsports, but since then it’s been something of a career odyssey and transformation for the 33-year-old from Los Gatos, Calif.

Allmendinger’s opportunity with Team Penske in 2012 went away midseason after a failed drug test. The following year Penske kept faith in him to run a selected IndyCar schedule, while also participating in select Sprint Cup races.

While he was named to the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet full-time in 2014, it came after the roller coaster two seasons before that.

As he enters this season, he armed with the same program year-on-year and the majority of the crew intact, Allmendinger is poised to build on what he and the No. 47 team did a year ago. Even though they won a race and made the Chase, Allmendinger said they were a 20th-22nd place team masquerading as a top-15 team.

“I look at last season two ways,” Allmendinger said during NASCAR media tour. “Winning was enormous. That provided so much confidence for the race team.

“But we weren’t as consistent as we wanted to be. We fell behind and that’s when it really hurt us where we were at. We never got the momentum going. The win helped, but it wasn’t until the last seven races we got to where we wanted to be.

“The new rules will be a guess package. But we’re so much further ahead as a race team. These first seven-eight races can really dictate our season. We’ll be ready to go.”

The “ready to go” line indicates a single-car team that is more prepared, and less behind, than it was at this point 12 months ago.

JTG Daugherty formed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and the open book, exchange of information serves as a benefit for both parties.

This year though, Allmendinger wants to be beating RCR’s full-time trio on a regular basis. He didn’t indicate that as a slight, but meant that if RCR technical partner teams were on a same, close-to-championship-level caliber, it would help both organizations.

“It’s big to go into the second year together,” he said. “We were always sharing information. But RCR itself was figuring out what direction to go. When they had four cars, it was all different setups, and we still had to pick and choose and figure out what I wanted. (Ryan Newman) making a championship run helped make us all better together.

“We still want to beat everybody. I’d be dumb to say we don’t want to beat the RCR cars. As the 47 team… it’s my goal is to say we’re the best RCR car every weekend. I don’t want a one-sided relationship to be picking from them, and they don’t need anything from us.

“If we’re beating them, we’re doing something right and learning from us. We have to work together to beat those teams.”

Allmendinger also challenged both himself and crew chief Brian Burns, who signed a two-year contract extension during the offseason, to be better leaders.

“Brian is a relatively new crew chief,” Allmendinger explained. “He took over the end of 2012, when Todd Berrier left. The team was really just trying to get itself together. We were never on equal footing.

“So last year for Brian and I to work together, now we have to be better. We have to be better team leaders. Our relationship has developed. For him to get a new two-year deal, now he has the confidence for the leadership. He’s the man at the shop for all the guys. We have to work well together to take team to another level.”

Burns echoed the sentiment.

“I believe its better to be part of an alliance than have a four-car team in our shop,” he said. “They treat us like a teammate. We go up to their meetings during the week. Can walk right up to each person.

“I feel this year we’re way ahead of the ball. I’m happy with the direction we’ve taken. We’re feeding off a well-organized group that is set in stone.”

Lastly for Allmendinger, who is already beginning his ninth season in Sprint Cup this year, having the stigma of being a “winless driver” is now erased thanks to his own confidence-boosting, popular win at Watkins Glen last year.

“I’ve always looked at this sport and it’s really weird,” he said. “You can run up front, but if you don’t have a win you’re looked at differently. But get the one win, and your name is talked about so differently.

“It’s a strange thing. Just one win, and suddenly your name isn’t in that topic of ‘he’ll never win.’

“We’re a family and we’ve won a race now. I think we can win more, and we’ve gotten better in the offseason.”

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.”