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.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”