Jimmie Johnson IndyCar Watch, Race 9: Back home again and feeling racy at the Brickyard

0 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — On a new course but familiar turf in more ways than one, the Brickyard was as good as Jimmie Johnson has been during his rookie season in IndyCar.

On the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (where he has four Brickyard 400 victories on the oval), Johnson tied a season-best 19th-place finish while finishing on the lead lap for the first time during his nine starts on the NTT IndyCar Series circuit this year.

After qualifying 22nd ahead of IndyCar winners Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe and briefly flirting with advancement to the final round, Johnson embraced adaptation during 85 laps on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile layout.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver dodged some incidents early, shifted into fuel mileage midrace and then made some clean passes for position in his most competitive outing in single-seater racing — undoubtedly in part because he has many laps on the IMS road course as any track, having raced there in May and tested there twice before.

A great day at the racetrack,” Johnson said about Saturday’s race. “This weekend has just been full of more confidence and understanding of the car. Certainly more understanding of the track since I’ve raced here before and also tested. Certainly my ceiling from the spring race was my floor, and I’m able to build on that.

NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard Practice
Jimmie Johnson holds his daughter Lydia on the grid before Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (Sean Gardner/Getty Images).

“On top of that, I had some racecraft going on. I had to work some fuel numbers and wasn’t in the race that I wanted to be in midrace, but with the cautions at the end, we were able to go back to full power, make a couple of passes, work my way up into the high teens. Just had an awesome day in this Carvana Honda. Good fun. Can’t wait to to go to Portland (NBC, 3 p.m. ET, Sept. 12) and do it all again.”

During IndyCar’s second annual crossover weekend with NASCAR at the Brickyard, the Cup Series practiced just ahead of Saturday’s IndyCar race. That gave the seven-time NASCAR champion an opportunity to catch up with old friends at the track for the first time since ending his full-time Cup career last November.

Former crew chief Chad Knaus, now the vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, hung out on Johnson’s pit stand during his qualifying session, which might have been the highlight of the No. 48 Dallara-Honda’s weekend. Despite a slicker track under much hotter conditions, Johnson qualified more than a second faster in further evidence that he is improving.

Jimmie Johnson confers with Chad Knaus after qualifying 22nd on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (Doug Mathews/IndyCar).

“That was a good session,” he told NBC Sports pit reporter Dave Burns. “My confidence keeps building for me, the more laps that I get under my belt the better I go. That was a great session to be only six 10ths (of a second) off my temmates. This is a huge accomplishment for me.

“My instincts of attacking in a Cup car are the horrible points to attack in an IndyCar. I still have to think my way through when I attack (and) how I attack. At some point, I’m going to forget about all that stuff, and it’s going to be second nature for me. I’m excited for that day to come.”


NEXT: Johnson will miss the IndyCar’s final oval race of the season Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway before returning for the final three races of the year. The first will be the 14th round of the 2021 season will be at 3 p.m. ET (NBC) on Sept. 12 at Portland International Raceway.


JOHNSON’S ROOKIE SEASON

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is racing 12 road and street course events this year. Here’s how he has fared in previous races:

RACE 1: How Jimmie fared in the season opener

RACE 2: Rough day at the office in St. Petersburg

RACES 4-5: A challenging weekend at the Detroit Grand Prix

RACE 6: One critical mistake at Road America

RACE 7: An enjoyable ride at “awesome” Mid-Ohio

RACE 8: A big bump but still having a blast in Nashville

‘HE’S GOING TO GET THERE’: An inside look at Jimmie Johnson’s rookie season at the halfway mark

In nine starts, Johnson has completed 620 of 715 laps with an average start of 23.2 and an average finish of 22.1.

AUTO: AUG 14 INDYCAR - Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix
Jimmie Johnson tied a season-best 22nd while finishing on the lead lap for the first time in his IndyCar career (Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

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.”