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.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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