What to Watch For: IndyCar’s Firestone 600 at Texas

0 Comments

FORT WORTH – The Verizon IndyCar Series is in the Lone Star State for its ninth race of the season, the Firestone 600 (kilometers) at Texas Motor Speedway.

The 248-lap race is set to go green at 8:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Here are the interesting storylines entering the race at “No Limits, Texas.”

GREEN TRACK

The Forth Worth area received a healthy dose of showers Saturday afternoon, which washed away two days worth of rubber put down on the track by both IndyCar and the Camping World Truck Series.

This should have an interesting impact on tire wear early in the race, which was one of the theme’s of last year’s race at the 1.5-mile race.

Scott Dixon, who won last year’s race in a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing, said “there’s so many things” to take into account with tire degradation.

“It could be balance. It could be you missed the stop on the COP by a little bit so it’s pushing a little bit, or understeer,” Dixon said Friday. “Breathing the throttle a little bit definitely helps throughout the race if you’re getting into a situation where you can utilize that. Also the lane usage. The low lane is definitely quicker, but it also chews up the tires pretty quick.

“I think throughout the race you see people running second, third lane. That’s for a reason, to try to help the longevity of the speed that you run.”

Josef Newgarden, who finished third in the last oval race at Indianapolis, will start fifth Saturday night in his second best start at Texas after beginning second in 2014. His best finish was eighth in 2013.

“Texas is always tough,” Negarden said. “It’s tough with the transitions in the banking. It’s two to three-wide on the restarts, a lot of the racing is two to three-wide, so you got to have a car that can go multiple lanes, you gotta have a car that takes care of the tires.”

One driver who could take advantage of the tire wear here is Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi. A Formula One driver in 2015, Rossi’s co-owner Bryan Herta believes Rossi’s experience with the tire wear in that series could benefit him Saturday night.

“The pace at the start of a tire run towards the end of a tire run is a huge difference,” Herta said. “That means you really got to take care of the car. I think that’s what he’s more used to in Formula One, the tires they run there, they degrade a lot over the course of a run. I think this seems familiar to him in that way. Even though it’s on an oval, if that make sense. I think in some ways the experience he’s had is going to pay off more here than some of the early places that we’ve been.”

Rossi will start a career best ninth.

DOME SKIDS, BABY

When IndyCar rolled in TMS at the beginning of May for an open test, the main topic of contention was dome skids.

That’s the name of the 7 millimeters of metal attached to the bottom of the chassis in IndyCar in order to keep them from going airborne. Combined with titanium blocks on the underside, the ride around TMS is a bit rougher for drivers, especially In Turn 2.

“Kind of just a bit before turn two, the bumps are pretty bad there,” Dixon said. “With the dome skid and the titanium plates, it hits the bottom, hits a lot harder and moves your car around. That’s the same in the exit of (Turn) 4. Those are areas that everybody is being a little cautious about. When it comes down to the race, man, you’ll have everybody using every lane possible, I think.”

Graham Rahal wasn’t a fan of the dome skids in May and he’s not enthusiastic about them this weekend.

“In my estimation, I think the domed skids are going to hurt the racing a little bit, but we’ll find out and see tomorrow,” said Rahal, who had the fastest speed in the final 30-minute practice session Friday night.

The combination of dome skids and titanium have also created more frequent showers of sparks as they bounce off the track surface.

SAME OLD TEXAS

James Hinchcliffe is continuing his tour of tracks he missed racing at in 2015 after his injury during Indianapolis 500 practice.

Hinchcliffe’s last run at TMS in 2014 came while he was still at Andretti Autosport. His best finish at Texas was fourth in 2012.

Luckily for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, Texas “didn’t change too much” in the last two years.

“Not a ton, it’s a little bumpier up top, which is kind of normal every year, it seems to get a little bit worse up there,” said Hinchcliffe. “You’re going going to want to run up there. It’s going to come into play for sure at some point over the race. It’s still the same old Texas, it’s still a tricky place and tire concentration is still the No. 1 goal.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
0 Comments

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.”