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

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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.’’

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

Saturday Talladega Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.

 

Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.