Jimmie Johnson recharging for Indy 500 with a trip to see ‘Team Johnson’ in Charlotte

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INDIANAPOLIS – At the conclusion of Monday’s two-hour practice session for the 106th Indy 500, the 33 drivers in the starting lineup all had media and sponsor duties over the next 48 hours before Carb Day.

Several top names were headed to New York, and others will took care of business in Indianapolis to prepare for Sunday’s Indy 500.

Jimmie Johnson, however, had “Carolina on his Mind.”

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion boarded his private plane and flew back to his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to spend time with his wife, Chandra, and daughters, Genevieve and Lydia (he also been working at Indy with his father, Gary, one of his spotters for practices and the race).

INDY 500 PRIMERImportant details, schedule for watching on NBC

STARTING LINEUP: Where the 33 drivers will take the green flag

It’s one way to clear his mind and prepare for one of the biggest challenges in his racing career as he starts 12th in Sunday’s race (11 a.m. ET, NBC).

“I’d be on my way now, if I didn’t have plenty of debriefing to do,” Johnson, who has been commuting from Indy to Carolina for much of the month, said after practice Monday. “It’s going to be nice to get home. My wife was out of the country for a week, and I saw her and the kids briefly for a couple of hours on qualifying day, and that’s been it.

“I’m eager to get home, see Team Johnson and get some time with them. Help out around the house. Chani has been super mom trying to do what she does for her career, plus the kids, plus support me. It will be nice to get home for a couple of days.”

Johnson will be making a quick jaunt Wednesday to New York to appear on Jimmy Fallon’s NBC show, but it’s otherwise all about his race car this week.

On the track, Monday’s two-hour practice session was very important as Johnson’s team hones in on race setup instead of qualification speed.

Johnson’s No. 48 Carvana/American Legion Honda ended Monday’s two-hour practice as the third fastest at 228.467 mph behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Alex Palou (229.441) and Scott Dixon (229), who still was feeling the momentum of his fifth pole position. Another Ganassi driver, Marcus Ericsson, was fifth (228.017).

“Great start to the week, nice to get back into race trim and get a sense of the car,” Johnson said. “Things keep changing. The track keeps evolving. It was nice to work through some changes and try to find neutral in the car again by myself, then work my way into traffic and put up some good lap times and competitive passes over other cars.

“Small little gains each time I’m out there. I’m learning a little bit more and putting a better race car under myself each time I’m out there.”

Johnson believes Monday’s laps were as important as any he has run at Indianapolis since the track opened for practice on May 17.

“They are all important and as we look at the forecast, we could be wet on Friday for Carb Day,” Johnson said. “This could be the last race trim running that we do before the 500. I’m glad we focused on what we did. Last week, conditions were different, and the car behaved differently. I’m glad we were as methodical on adjustments and changes on the car today.”

Johnson welcomed a “lower energy, lower stress day” on Monday. His weekend — from posting the fastest four-lap average Saturday morning before making the Fast 12 to nearly crashing on his opening qualifying lap Sunday — was an emotional roller coaster.

“From an energy standpoint, yesterday was the peak of it all with the excitement trying to make the Fast Six,” Johnson said. “I’m ready to take a few days off, get my batteries recharged and be ready to go for the Indianapolis 500.

“I’m sure after Sunday, I’ll be a lot smarter.”

As an Indy 500 rookie, Johnson still has been one of the month’s most consistent drivers since posting the third-fastest speed on opening day.

“We’ve had a great car,” Johnson said. “I wish we could have put it together for qualifying. I feel like I could have been in that Fast Six.

“To have my main disappointment be 12th on the grid, that’s pretty damn awesome.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

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.”