NASCAR’s Pemberton explains extended late-race caution in NNS finale

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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.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.