IndyCar’s iRacing entry list for Saturday’s race at Michigan oval

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay highlight the drivers who will be making their IndyCar iRacing Challenge debuts Saturday at Michigan International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

There are a series-record 31 drivers in the field for the 85-lap event on the 2-mile speedway, which will mark the first oval in the six-race virtual series. The first two races were held on the road courses at Watkins Glen International (click here for results) and Barber Motorsports Park (results). Scott McLaughlin, the two-time SuperCars champion who won at Barber, leads the unofficial points standings.

Earnhardt, who has driven the past three races in the eNASCAR Pro Invitational (and finished second in the opener), will be driving the No. 3 Nationwide Chevrolet.

MORE: Click here to view the entry list

Andretti will be driving his No. 98 Honda (which Scott Speed had driven to a third at Barber) at Michigan, where he finished second in IndyCar’s last visit in 2007. Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay will be in his No. 28 Honda.

After starting the first two races, Jimmie Johnson will be taking a break from IndyCar at Michigan

Click here to view the entry list for the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Michigan International Speedway.

The race will be televised live at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN. There will be no competition caution at Michigan, where the fuel window is roughly 37 green-flag laps (just short of halfway, which could create some strategical dilemmas over whether to make one or two pit stops).

Here’s the IndyCar release on the third round of the iRacing Challenge:

INDIANAPOLIS — In a series in which the only predictable trait has been unpredictability, the IndyCar iRacing Challenge could get even wilder during Round 3 on Saturday, April 11.

That’s because the virtual racing series featuring stars of the NTT IndyCar Series and some special guests is moving to an oval – the super-fast, wide, 2-mile Michigan International Speedway – after the first two rounds took place on natural road courses at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park.

The Chevrolet 275 will feature exciting, tight action for all 85 laps after the green flag flies at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday (live on NBCSN). IndyCar events at the popular track in the Irish Hills of Michigan included wild racing with numerous photo finishes from 1968-2007, as the generous racing surface with multiple lines creates many passing opportunities.

Drivers in this six-round virtual series, which takes place every Saturday through May 2, use identical car setups provided by iRacing. That will place a premium on slipstreaming in packs for position and managing tire wear as fuel loads drop.

Statistics – both overall and recent – also point to a very competitive race Saturday. Three of the 10 IndyCar races featuring the most lead changes in history have occurred at MIS. And the last time IndyCar raced at the 2-mile oval, Tony Kanaan edged Marco Andretti by a scant .0595 of a second for victory Aug. 5, 2007.

2004 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Kanaan and Andretti could repeat that photo finish Saturday, as Andretti is joining the series for the first time this week in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda fielded by Andretti Herta with Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian.

Andretti is one of three prominent drivers making their INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debuts Saturday, along with 2012 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hunter-Reay is driving the No. 28 DHL Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport, while veteran iRacing competitor Earnhardt – now a motorsports analyst for NBC Sports – will be behind the virtual wheel of the No. 3 Nationwide JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers Max Chilton and James Davison also will join the series Saturday, with Carlin Racing’s Chilton in the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet and Davison in the No. 33 Honda.

Those newcomers will be among 31 drivers taking the green flag in the largest field yet for the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge.

Among the favorites for victory Saturday will be Sage Karam and Scott McLaughlin. Round 1 (Watkins Glen) winner Karam will drive the No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet fielded by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and two-time Virgin Supercars Australia champion McLaughlin will try to earn a second straight win in the No. 2 Snap-On Team Penske Dallara after holding off teammate Will Power by .4241 of a second to win Saturday, April 4 at Barber Motorsports Park.

2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Power also must be considered a primary threat for victory in the Chevrolet 275. He is the only driver to finish on the podium in both INDYCAR iRacing Challenge races so far, placing third in the opener at Watkins Glen and second last Saturday at Barber in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

While Power is the only driver with two podium finishes in the series, the level of unpredictability goes even deeper throughout the field. Just six drivers have earned top-10 finishes in both races to date: Power (3-2), 2019 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year Felix Rosenqvist (2-6), McLaughlin (4-1), 2016 series champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud (6-5), two-time and reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden (7-9) and 2019 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge Rookie of the Year Santino Ferrucci (8-10).

The fuel window for this race is expected to be approximately 37 green flag laps, slightly less than half of the race distance. So, depending on the number of caution periods, drivers and their team strategists could decide on two stops for service or try to stretch fuel to finish the race on one stop, creating even more strategic elements. There will be no competition caution to bunch the field Saturday, unlike Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park.

The starting lineup will be set through a 10-minute qualifying session prior to the event.

Saturday’s race at a virtual version of Michigan International Speedway, located in Brooklyn, Michigan, is the third of six races in the series. Future venues include a “Random Draw” track April 18, Circuit of the Americas on April 25 and a non-INDYCAR “Dream” track May 2.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will not crown an overall champion but will add a special element where IndyCar will make a donation to one of its partner charities.

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.”