IndyCar: Texas might have provided some takeaways for the future


IndyCar’s longest day seems to have been one of the smoothest, considering the logistics Saturday of getting nearly 1,000 people in and out of Texas Motor Speedway.

An NTT Series spokesperson told NBC Sports there were no issues in health screenings Saturday, and that the two dozen teams competing in the Genesys 300 all were processed and inside the track by 8 a.m. CT.

Working off a 36-page playbook for racing during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there were two temperature checks, one upon arrival at the airport and another check for entry to the paddock and garage area.

After leaving for Texas on early morning flights Saturday, all of the teams from Indianapolis had landed back home by 2:30 a.m. ET.

Series officials will be reviewing the 2020 season opener, but IndyCar drivers seemed pleased with how Texas operated on a full day that included practice, qualifying and the race.

Scott Dixon was in victory lane for the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway after a long day at the track (Tom Pennington/Getty Images).

“It was really the unknowns, trying to cram that all in,” race winner Scott Dixon said. “Traveling here this morning, qualifying, practice, race, then we fly home. First time we’ve ever done anything like that. A lot of new things.

“Maybe that’s how we’ll do a lot of our events from now on. I’m not sure. I actually kind of enjoyed it. Kind of cool to do doubleheaders like this, which I think we’re going to do in the future this season, which is going to be a lot of fun.”

The IndyCar Series has Saturday-Sunday doubleheaders upcoming next month at Road America and Iowa Speedway and in September at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, so the one-day schedule could become a blueprint of sorts.

Simon Pagenaud waits on pit wall during practice at Texas Motor Speedway (Tom Pennington/Getty Images).

If it does, the pressure could be ratcheted up on teams to be precise with prerace adjustments.

“The one-day show was very interesting because you had to be very decisive on your decisions,” Texas runner-up Simon Pagenaud said. “Obviously, after the first session, we kind of had to decide the race setup right away because the car was going to go to impound after qualifying. That’s a split decision you make in a very short amount of time with your engineer.”

For teammate and pole-sitter Josef Newgarden, his Team Penske crew guessed wrong, but he still led 41 laps and finished third.

“The hardest part for me was basically thinking we made the right decisions going into the race, about 15 laps in realizing that we were horribly off the mark,” Newgarden said. “So you don’t have a lot of time to rectify an issue. I think if there was more practice, more of a lead-up to this event, maybe we would have had some clues to point out maybe we weren’t as strong as we thought we were going into the race.

“When you have that jam-packed schedule, it’s kind of on the team and the driver to execute quickly and to make the right decisions, to show up with good stuff, kind of stick to your guns. I like that. I really like that style. It didn’t work out for us tonight. I think in the future we can hopefully thrive in that situation.”

There was some confusion about why lapped cars weren’t cleared between Dixon and Pagenaud before the restart with four laps to go. IndyCar officials enforced an “abandonment of procedures” rule (which had been discussed in the prerace virtual drivers meeting).

(Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

That allows for the suspension of rules (such as the one that dictates lapped cars are moved to the rear on superspeedway restarts with fewer than 15 laps remaining) late in a race under yellow to ensure a green-flag finish.

In a text to IndyCar on NBC host Leigh Diffey (watch in the video above), IndyCar NTT Series race director Kyle Novak wrote, “It was a timing thing to get the race finished. Sometimes I have to make that decision before I know if we actually have enough time.

“Perhaps in hindsight, I may have had enough time in Texas. But if I didn’t, we may have jeopardized the restart. It was the safest decision to have the restart with the maximum amount of time remaining.”

Pagenaud expressed initial confusion about the situation Saturday night but also said it wouldn’t have impacted the outcome because “Dixon was too good anyways. I’m pretty realistic about my chances.

“Yeah, I didn’t understand the situation,” he said. “ I need to look at the rules. Yeah, I was surprised that they didn’t move the cars. I’m assuming it’s because they wanted to go back green. Quite frankly, I get that. You have to give a show. We’re here for a show at the end of the day. … I think that’s probably what race control saw. The only way they could go back green in time before the end was to do that. If they decided to do that, I totally get it.”

Texas Motor Speedway cautioned drivers that what appeared to be a safe surface actually offered no grip, but the temptation still was unavoidable.

Several drivers spun in practice, qualifying and the race after getting in the higher lane that had been coated in PJ1 traction compound for the first time seven months earlier before the track’s NASCAR second annual weekend.

Though track workers tried to scrape off remnants of the compound a few weeks ago, it still left a darker shade — essentially a ghost image of the asphalt-style superglue sprayed in the turns before the NASCAR race weekend last November.

Ryan Hunter-Reay looks at data on a laptop during practice at Texas Motor Speedway (Tom Pennington/Getty Images).

Ryan Hunter-Reay said it “absolutely was” a factor in his practice incident.

“They warned us about it earlier, saying that it’s more of a stain at the moment,” said Hunter-Reay, who rebounded to qualify fourth and finish eighth after his team scrambled to repair the damage to his No. 28  Dallara-Honda. “There is no grip to it. There’s nothing there that’s going to help you.

“It’s strange. I mean, it’s very dark, which usually all my years of racing you see dark, you think that’s going to be a quick side, that is going to be rubber, something to help you. But yeah, there’s no traction about it. It’s tricky.”

Newgarden didn’t think the lack of traction compound was necessarily a major reason for the crashes, but he did note Texas still lacks a wider groove for IndyCar since its 2017 repave. Because the pandemic precluded Firestone building new tires that were matched to the heavier Aeroscreen-laden cars, Saturday was largely a track-position race.

“I think we’re always constantly trying to figure out ways how we can create more lanes,” Newgarden said. “For us, what made Texas such a great track is when we could run two- or three-wide. I think everyone wants to do that. We’re struggling to find a way to build the grip up in the second and third lane. … Three years before it was paved, it used to race two- or three-wide. We want to get it back to that.”

Josef Newgarden shrugs after winning the pole position at Texas Motor Speedway (Tom Pennington/Getty Images).

Though he wasn’t on the pit box calling strategy Saturday night, Roger Penske still was a presence at Texas.

He visited the NBC booth before the race, which he watched from a frontstretch suite (having removed himself as a team strategist since buying IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway). He also made headlines about the Indianapolis 500 in separate interviews with the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer and’s Robin Miller.

“We’re on for fans in August and planning on it and we feel good,” Penske told Miller about the Aug. 23 race. “It’s still almost three months from now, and I think we’ll be OK. But we will run it only with fans.”

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

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

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.”