Josef Newgarden boosts IndyCar title hopes with win at WWT Raceway Gateway

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On a night that saw over a third of the field eliminated by wrecks and mechanical failures – including two NTT IndyCar Series title contenders – Josef Newgarden took his second win of the season in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway Gateway near St. Louis.

With the victory, Newgarden cut his deficit in the championship by more than half after entering Saturday’s race 55 points behind Alex Palou. Newgarden now is 22 points behind new points leader Pato O’Ward, who was the runner-up to the Team Penske driver for the second consecutive season at Gateway.

MORE: IndyCar race results, driver points after Bommarito 500 at WWT Raceway

“It’s big,” Newgarden told NBCSN after his third career victory at WWT’s 1.25-mile short oval. “Any win is important for the year. I wish we had a couple more up to this point and were in a different position, but we’ve always got to fight with where we’re at and what we’ve got in our hands.

“I just always have faith that we can win a race.”

O’Ward finished second after being unable to track down Newgarden in the closing stages. Will Power converted his pole position into a third-place result. Rookie Scott McLaughlin finished fourth, giving Team Penske three drivers inside the top four. Sebastien Bourdais came home fifth.

As IndyCar’s title race took another twist, Newgarden and O’Ward capitalized on the troubles of Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Alex Palou and Scott Dixon.

Palou and Dixon entered Saturday first and third in the points standings. But on Lap 65, Rinus VeeKay made contact from behind with Palou after slamming on the brakes while trying to avoid Dixon. All three drivers were collected in the crash and eventually eliminated by the damage.

Palou, who had led the points after the previous four races, slipped to second in the standings at 10 points behind O’Ward.

Following initial repairs on pit road, Dixon went to the garage for an extended period before returning. He eventually bowed out with around 70 laps to go and finished 19th, 160 laps off the pace. He fell behind Newgarden to fourth in the standings, 43 points behind O’Ward.

After a solid run and having a few breaks go his way, O’Ward felt he got the most out of his car and race considering that passing was at a premium.

“It’s really tough to pass here,” O’Ward told NBCSN. “The only way to get by someone is, maybe if I had way newer tires than Josef. But we had the same amount of tire life. We had the same amount of fuel. It’s just tough to pass around here, as we saw last year.”

The Palou-Dixon-VeeKay incident capped a disjointed first quarter of the 260-lap race with five yellow flags in the first 75 laps. But things finally settled into a rhythm afterward with only one caution over the last 185 laps, and Newgarden retained the lead up to and after his first green flag stop at Lap 134.

A few laps later, Colton Herta dispatched Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi for second place and then set his sights on Newgarden. On Lap 139, Newgarden attempted to block Herta into Turn 1, but Herta still took the lead away on the inside.

From there, Herta maintained a gap of roughly 1 second over Newgarden until he pitted from the lead at Lap 185, and his team discovered a broken half-shaft on the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that ended Herta’s bid for his second victory of 2021.

Newgarden and O’Ward had clean stops from first and second place on Lap 198. Two laps later, Rossi got high and crashed in the Turn 2 wall to bring out the caution. The No. 27 driver took the blame for the error in an NBCSN interview.

The race resumed with 50 laps remaining. Josef Newgarden withstood the restart, and while O’Ward remained in striking distance throughout the final run, he was unable to mount a challenge in the closing stages of IndyCar at Gateway.

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.”