Former NASCAR executive Robin Pemberton sheds light on why some decisions were made

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
11 Comments

Although he’s no longer at NASCAR, Robin Pemberton isn’t retired and said Tuesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “I’m not done by any means.’’

Pemberton, who spent 11 years with NASCAR before leaving after last season as senior vice president of competition and racing development, spent 90 minutes on the “Late Shift” with co-hosts Brad Gillie and Kenny Wallace. Pemberton shared insights into how NASCAR does things and stories from a career that spans 37 years in various roles from mechanic to crew chief to series executive.

Pemberton said he’s joined his son, Bray, who has started a consulting business in the sport, but Pemberton said he’s also looking to do more.

Before joining NASCAR in Aug. 2004, Pemberton worked on teams with such drivers as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Kyle Petty. Pemberton scored 26 wins in 17 seasons as a crew chief.

He revealed Tuesday that he had planned more than a year ago to make last year his final year with the sanctioning body, deciding a change was needed after more than a decade in one place.

While there, Pemberton was in the middle of many key decisions from the Chase to the cars to various rule changes. He shed some light on some of those decisions.

Although the elimination format in the Chase debuted in 2014, Pemberton noted that it was not a new topic in NASCAR, saying “there was a lot of talk for years prior to that” about such a concept.

He also shared a reason why NASCAR went to fuel injection in 2012 in place of carburetors.

“It was a time a number of years ago, there were some different meetings going on and it was about technology and it was about the potential of new manufacturers coming in, which happens all the time,’’ he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Some of the feedback was ‘Your engines are antiques. There’s no fuel injection.’ So, we got kind of slapped around that there wasn’t enough technology from what people viewed NASCAR.

“You and I both know,’’ Pemberton told Wallace, “that there was a lot of technology in those engines. It just didn’t have the fuel injection and the computer running everything. That was the first tap on the shoulder. Yeah, we need to step up a little bit and get some fuel injection.’’

Another key move made while Pemberton was at NASCAR was the series moving to what was then called the Car of Tomorrow, which debuted in March 2007 and featured a rear wing.

The rear wing was not well received and series officials eventually replaced the wing with a spoiler.

“We were getting a lot of static on the wing,’’ Pemberton said. “The wing is very efficient. It’s the way to go. It’s low drag. It makes a lot of downforce. It was right for one application, but so many people said that stock cars are not winged cars, stock cars are spoilers.

“Best I can remember, we got a lot of static about it. I’m thinking we turned that thing around in six months from doing all the runs in the wind tunnel.

“When a car turned around and got airborne, these cars can get airborne. The thing that we did learn is that the wing was efficient and didn’t develop a lot of drag, so when the car turned around, it never slowed down. With a spoiler … you can feel that thing start to grind to a halt, it’s a lot of drag, it’s a big parachute hanging out when you start to spin. The wing wasn’t necessarily causing it to fly, it just wasn’t slowing the car down when the car got out of shape and turned around.’’

Pemberton also discussed how NASCAR reviews potential infractions in the control tower during races.

“There’s a tremendous replay system in the tower that is NASCAR’s only,’’ Pemberton said. “Every camera is up on a display and you review and look at different things. It really helps you try to improve your calls. It has minimized some of the potential bad calls at times.’’

Pemberton noted how cameras played a key role in NASCAR deciding to penalize Jimmie Johnson’s team in last year’s season finale in Miami and what happened after that.

NASCAR ordered Johnson to pit to fix a body panel issue after the jackman leaned into quarter panel to push it in to give it an aerodynamic advantage.

“I think when you look back at the penalty on (Johnson’s team) at Homestead when they caved the body in during a pit stop, that was something we saw from an in-car camera or something else on pit road,’’ Pemberton told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Our liaison told NBC what happened and they found the footage themselves and Steve Letarte was able to explain it (on NBC’s broadcast). That’s what you need. Fans want proof. You have to do everything you can to help educate them of the calls.’’