According to NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton, the extended late-race caution in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway initially looked like “a typical cleanup.”
It turned into anything but. Prior to that final caution, the longest period under yellow had been five laps. But after a multi-car incident on Lap 183, track workers needed 12 laps to clean up oil left over from the accident on the front-stretch.
The problems started when Regan Smith (pictured, No. 7) tried to clear Jeremy Clements (pictured, No. 51) as they were racing three-wide off of Turn 4 with Mike Wallace. But Smith’s rear bumper made contact with Clements’ front end and that sent Smith into the outside wall, pinning Clements against it and inflicting damage to Wallace’s car as well.
Pemberton said he and the NASCAR officials believed that they would only need a “normal lap segment” to clean up the mess. But instead, NASCAR was forced to wave off the restart multiple times while the workers continued their efforts.
“Unfortunately, there was a lot of oil – it looked like it kept either seeping back up out of the race track or whatever from the car that was on the outside of the wall,” Pemberton said. “We went one to go a handful of times trying to get back racing as soon as we can, but when you’re in situations like that, the most important thing is getting the track race ready.
“You can use your hindsight every chance that you want to, but in this particular time, we did the best we could and it was more important to get the track ready.”
Certainly, nobody wanted the field to go back to green on an oil-slicked front stretch. But the delay still transformed the NNS driver’s championship battle between Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. into a five-lap free-for-all.
And that did not play into Hornish’s favor, by any means. His team owner, Roger Penske, said that it was “very disappointing” to see the caution being extended as long as it was.
But Pemberton noted that you can’t pick when inopportune moments happen.
“First race of the year, the last race of the year – we try to operate the same no matter what it is,” he said. “And unfortunately, sometimes it happens this way.”