Scott Dixon seeks first Iowa win to launch his usual points comeback

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NEWTON, Iowa – Scott Dixon and second half comebacks in the Verizon IndyCar Series are as ubiquitous as corn references at the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway.

Odd, then, that Iowa Speedway is one of only a handful of tracks where the driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet hasn’t won before.

But the winner of IndyCar’s only previous short oval race this season, on the 1-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway back in April, could use an encore of that outing to perform his usual second half comeback once more as he’ll start today’s race (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN) 90 points back of points leader Simon Pagenaud.

Dixon sits fourth in the standings, and needs to start making headway with seven races left if he’s to retain his 2015 crown and win his fifth series championship.

At 90 back, and starting 10th today, he’ll need to make up an average of 12.8 points per race, and also leapfrog Pagenaud’s two Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power in second and third.

“It has been a funny place, no doubt,” Dixon told NBC Sports of Iowa, where he’s one of four drivers to have started each of the nine Iowa races but only has one podium, a third place in 2011.

“We’ve been on the pole, led a lot of laps, but it’s been a race with a lot of issues. I’ve had the steering column lock up while leading. Last year, the CV joint broke. I’ve had the seat belts came undone. We’ve had engine failures. It’s been a strange race.

“It’s funny because I think the Ganassi cars are generally good, and we’re at the pointy end of the field. Two years ago we got trumped on tire strategy and ended 3-4 (with teammate Tony Kanaan a spot ahead) instead of 1-2.

“I enjoy this place. It’s fun and demanding. For an oval, it’s quite physically tough.”

It was also the race where despite the CV joint failure last year, his Ganassi team rallied to get him back out and gain the necessary one extra point that ultimately won him last year’s title.

Dixon said he’d have preferred the race to stay a Saturday night affair but understood the reasoning behind it moving to Sunday from a big picture viewpoint.

“It’s back to a day race… it’s interesting, because a lot of people would prefer Saturday night,” he said. “For TV though it’s important, and a logical choice. Sunday at 4 or 5 p.m. ET not going up against anyone is good, so the rating should benefit.”

Dixon will also benefit from his usual copious amount of seat time this weekend, back in the car after a rare weekend off, which actually threw him for a loop.

Before Road America, Dixon’s crazy travel schedule coming off the month of May at Indianapolis, then the Detroit doubleheader featured the weekend at Texas, his trip to Le Mans, a test at Watkins Glen and then Road America, before settling down with of all things, a wedding he attended still in Elkhart Lake. No race cars were involved, just wedding attire.

Yet the extended stay in Elkhart nearly didn’t happen. Dixon’s sports car teammate Ryan Briscoe – himself a story last weekend with wife Nicole’s surprise but welcome birth of new daughter Blake – was nearly sidelined from competition and had he been unable to return to Watkins Glen, Dixon was the standby driver for the team’s No. 67 Ford GT alongside Richard Westbrook. That in and of itself is surprising considering Ford GT development driver and Le Mans/WEC extra Billy Johnson was on site at Watkins Glen last weekend.

“I was in pretty good contact with him,” Dixon admitted. “If he didn’t make it back, then I’d be missing a wedding. But what a great outcome for him to have a baby Friday, then a race win on Sunday.”

Tentatively, Dixon is scheduled to race once more in the Ford GT at Petit Le Mans in October.

But first, he and the No. 9 team led by Mike Hull has the business of closing the gap to Pagenaud over the final seven races – and the engine issues sustained at Road America dented what was a good opportunity to chip away at it two weeks ago.

“He’s struck a bit of bad luck at Road America,” Dixon said. “You hate to use the word ‘lucky,’ but it’s been convenient for him where guys who could get on a roll have had a few hiccups.

“It’s been frustrating, because each weekend we wait for the flip to make inroads. It hasn’t worked out that way.

“It’s good to see Will (Power) get some speed back and bank good points. But we need to make this championship somewhat exciting… although I’m sure Pagenaud doesn’t want that!

“We started strong and have had great speed. But whether with mechanicals or silly stuff, it’s all been a bit odd.”

The frustration also seeps through given the fact it hasn’t just been Dixon who’s been strong but unlucky. Teammates Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton have also had their moments in the sun this year, but none consistent enough to mount a regular challenge.

If Dixon is to keep the title, he’ll need his three Chip Ganassi Racing teammates to provide ample support and take points off Team Penske’s quartet.

“We’ve all been good, but in a really frustrating way, we haven’t had too many conversions,” he said.

But, the metronomically calm, cool, consistent and incredibly talented Dixon is back in his natural habitat this weekend after his one off weekend, and seeks to end his run of relative bad luck.

“I think when you’re turning up to any track hitting ground running, everything’s been exciting,” he said. “So a weekend off felt strange! But it’s been a lot of seat time and I’m loving every second of it.”

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

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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.”