LONG BEACH, Calif. – We’d say stop the presses, but Team Penske’s dominance in qualifying is anything but breaking news.
The four-car team continued its assault on qualifying in the Verizon IndyCar Series Saturday ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Penske has secured its sixth consecutive Verizon P1 Award (pole position) dating to Milwaukee last year. Will Power took the poles at Milwaukee and Sonoma last year, with Helio Castroneves bagging the pole at Auto Club Speedway.
In three straight races to open 2015, Power (St. Petersburg), Juan Pablo Montoya (NOLA, albeit on entrant points due to qualifying washout) and now Castroneves (Long Beach) have made it three different Penske drivers in as many races on the pole.
Castroneves praised the team after his first pole position of the season, and first since the aforementioned one in Fontana last August.
“The team worked really hard because we changed everything in the car last night, so congratulations to them,” Castroneves said.
“It was not pretty last night, but it proved that we were able to keep pushing. When you get the pole position with the teammates I have, it’s actually pretty cool. The car is awesome so we have to keep pushing.”
Not only is the dominance on the pole, but it is overall in the two Firestone Fast Six sessions thus far run this year.
Penske, between Power, Montoya, Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, have secured seven of the available 12 spots thus far.
Five other teams – Andretti Autosport (Ryan Hunter-Reay), Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon), CFH Racing (Josef Newgarden), A.J. Foyt Enterprises (Takuma Sato) and KVSH Racing (Sebastien Bourdais) – have the other five, at one apiece.
Montoya, who lost out on strategy last week in NOLA Motorsports Park despite dominating the race, said Power – who will start 18th on Sunday after mistiming his run in qualifying group one – can’t be counted out.
“It’s a long race. Tim Cindric is really good at calling strategies and those weird things. I’m sure he’s going to be there at the end somehow,” Montoya said.
“It’s funny, sometimes you when you start at the back, you can figure out a race strategy. When you’re in the front, you’re kind of tight to protect that lead. When you’re in the back, you gamble. A lot of times it pays off. Look at last week. We did everything right, but we threw it away.”
Pagenaud, who could well be poised to capture his first win as a Penske driver on Sunday and led third practice Saturday, had just a simple post-qualifying quote.
“We’ve been fast in every practice. Team Penske did a great job. Overall, it’s been a good weekend so far. Hope it stays that way tomorrow,” he said.
Power was reflective and didn’t nearly go off as much as he could have in an IndyCar Radio interview.
Overall though, Penske has opened this year in qualifying as excellent as possible, and will look to translate that into a result similar to its 1-2-4-5 effort to kick off the year at St. Petersburg.
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.
“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].”
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.”
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.”