Jimmie Johnson IndyCar Watch, Race 11: Best finish, memorable collision at Laguna Seca


Jimmie Johnson delivered the best finish of his NTT IndyCar Series career Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which also featured the most memorable highlight of his rookie season.

With seven laps remaining, Formula One veteran and fellow IndyCar rookie Romain Grosjean attempted to pass Johnson on the entry to the 2.238-mile road course’s famous Corkscrew turn, and their cars made contact.

Grosjean’s No. 51 Dallara-Honda went airborne while Johnson’s No. 48 Dallara-Honda made a hard right over the curbing and through the green runoff area, but both drivers were able to continue. Grosjean apologized for the collision in postrace interviews after placing third, noting that Johnson was trying to impede his progress in catching teammate and points leader Alex Palou, who finished second.

“I thought our day was over,” Johnson told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “I couldn’t believe that he threw it in there that late on me. Luckily we both saved it. I thought I lost my wrist, too, as the wheel went whipping around, but we both saved it, and I was worried about a penalty from being inside the green. But thankfully I didn’t get that penalty and was able to get a career-best finish.”

After starting 25th, Johnson finished 17th of 27 cars — two spots better than his previous best of 19th (at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course). Despite finishing a lap down at Laguna Seca, Jimmie Johnson finished ahead of three former  Indy 500 winners (Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves and Will Power) and some IndyCar winners (Felix Rosenqvist, James Hinchcliffe and Rinus VeeKay) with some of his best passes of the season.

Johnson said he started the race thinking his Chip Ganassi Racing team was “in big trouble” because of tire degradation, but “my life was so much better and so much more competitive” with the consistency of new tires on the primary and alternate compounds.

“Solid day for me here at WeatherTech Raceway,” the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion said. “Pretty racy track and very interesting race as the tires were falling off, (and) each team was trying to utilize strategy. All in all, created a lot of passing, and I really had a great experience learning how to set cars up, make passes and work my way up. A fun day and looking forward to closing things down next week in Long Beach.”

Since crashing multiple times at the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Johnson has avoided any major incidents while assembling a three-race streak of his best results of the season. Laguna Seca followed consecutive lead-lap finishes at Portland and the Indy GP.

Jimmie Johnson finished a career-best 17th at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

NEXT: Johnson will be racing in the season finale at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where his dreams of racing in IndyCar initially were kindled and some of his biggest career moves were hammered out (during 1990s meetings with GM Racing officials). The 16th and final round of the 2021 IndyCar season will be at 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN) on Sept. 26.


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

RACE 9: Back home again and feeling racy in Indy

RACE 10: Solid weekend and winning assist in Portland

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

In 11 starts, Johnson has completed 824 of 920 laps with an average start of 23.3 and an average finish of 21.5 (two DNFs).

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.”