NASCAR’s Pemberton: Restart penalty for Johnson was “cut and dry”

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Despite Jimmie Johnson’s insistence that race leader Juan Pablo Montoya wasn’t going fast enough on the final restart of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said the decision to penalize Johnson for jumping Montoya was a clear one.

“He left early and he didn’t give [the lead] back like we tell them all the time when that type of thing comes up,” Pemberton told the Associated Press following the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks. “It’s pretty cut and dry. You can look at the films and the restart zone and where the start was.”

As the race leader, Montoya, who was situated on the outside as he and Johnson led the field, has the duty of staying in the lead once the cars hit the restart zone. In addition, NASCAR rules state that the race leader must be the first across the start/finish line on a restart.

However, Johnson got a sizable jump off Montoya and momentarily would not give up the point as he asked NASCAR over his team radio to review the start.

“Please look – I checked up to give him the spot back but he blew it so bad,” Johnson pleaded.

But NASCAR stood firm on their decision and after issuing the black flag for Johnson, he went to the pits to serve a drive-through penalty for the violation.

Instead of a potential win, he wound up 17th after leading 143 of 400 laps. Montoya was unable to hold off Tony Stewart in the final moments and settled for second.

Afterwards, Johnson called the decision a “judgment call” that simply went against him and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.

“I ran half throttle for the first half a lap waiting for him, then at some point you have to go and you have to race,” Johnson explained. “That is when I got back in the gas and took off. Went so long and I tried to give it back and I was hopeful they would look at the telemetry and see. They have all that ability. I was hopeful they would see I was trying to give them the spot back.

“I didn’t know if [Montoya] broke, I didn’t know if he had contact, spun the tires and hit the outside wall. I have no clue. At some point, I had to go and unfortunately, they called me on it.”

For Montoya’s part, he believed that Johnson was indeed trying to jump the restart – although he also added that he would’ve done the same thing if he were in second.

“When we got to the line, I think [Johnson] wanted to time it and he timed it too well, and he just ‑ you know, he wanted to get the jump on me and he just jumped it too much,” he said. “It’s one of those deals that when you time it too good, it actually hurts you.”

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.