Competitors, NASCAR address caution cleanup
November 16, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- From NASCAR's perspective, it seemed like a routine cleanup.
It turned into anything but. Track workers needed 12 laps to clean up oil from a three-car accident that occurred late in Saturday night's Nationwide Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, turning the championship battle into a five-lap sprint between Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr.
Dillon prevailed by three points despite finishing 12th. Hornish came home eighth, and all the circling under yellow came at an inopportune time for the Penske Racing driver in his effort to distance himself from Dillon in the waning laps. Team owner Roger Penske, who won the owners' championship, certainly wasn't thrilled with the length of the caution.
"I've never seen a race that was so important that you wait (12) laps before you have five laps to go," Penske said after Brad Keselowski's race victory. "That was very disappointing."
With 17 laps remaining, Regan Smith bobbled up into Jeremy Clements in a three-wide situation that left the JR Motorsports driver's car up against the wall, and the caution flag flew. "It just looked like a typical situation," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition. "And it was problematic getting the oil cleaned up against the wall."
Indeed, NASCAR planned to go green a handful of times only to wave off the restart and send workers back out on the track to continue the cleanup. Initially, Pemberton said, it seemed to NASCAR that there was no need to throw a red flag that would have temporarily halted the race. Officials believed the situation could be addressed in "a normal lap segment," Pemberton added. The longest caution period before the final one had been five laps.
"Unfortunately, there was a lot of oil," Pemberton said. "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. We went one to go a handful of times trying to get back racing as soon 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 do, and it was more important to get the track ready."
Not everyone was disappointed by the delay.
"I was surprised, but it helped me a little bit," said Kyle Larson, who was leading at the time of the caution, and finished second after Keselowski made a huge surge over the final laps to win. "I would rather it stay yellow than go to red. They kept putting the lights off, and then they'd go check again. It worked out to be a little bit in our favor. Just came up a couple laps short."
Unfortunately for Hornish, the saga unfolded as he was trying to separate himself from Dillon with the championship on the line.
"We don’t like to take any more time to do these things than the rest of everybody," Pemberton said. "Unfortunately, you can't pick what times these happen. First race of the year, or last race of the year, we try to operate the same no matter what it is. Unfortunately, sometimes it happens this way."