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Pemberton attempts to quell rising storm of drivers' questions

Knight Ridder • May 15, 2007 at 11:09 AM

With high-profile drivers openly questioning officiating after Sunday's Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway, NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton defended the sanctioning body.

"We stand by what we do and the calls that we make," Pemberton said Monday. "Obviously, no matter what call we make, people are going to be divided on whether it's right or wrong. But I feel we do a good job.

"We're going to march on and we're going to make the best calls possible for the entire field."

Winner Jeff Gordon and runner-up Denny Hamlin both leveled criticism at NASCAR about why a caution for debris on the track was not called in the final laps.

"There was somebody's entire fender and underbody on the racetrack," Hamlin said. "I saw that and I literally pumped my fist in the car because I knew a caution was going to come out. But no caution, and Hendrick (Motorsports) gets another break. I don't mean to open up another can of worms on that one."

It's not a new can. Tony Stewart, Hamlin's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, said after he finished second to Gordon at Phoenix last month that NASCAR throws cautions for debris when there is none to manipulate competition, and he compared stock-car racing officiating to that seen in professional wrestling.

But it's not only the people finishing second who are questioning NASCAR.

"Absolutely (there) should have been a caution at the end," Gordon said after a fourth straight Hendrick victory and eighth in nine races. "But there shouldn't have been one before that when we really checked out and those guys never even had a chance at catching us. That comes back to the inconsistency."

Pemberton said NASCAR would be criticized either way. If a caution is thrown and Hamlin wins, Gordon's fans are angry. With no caution, partisans say NASCAR is "helping" Gordon.

Pemberton, who is in the tower where decisions on the caution are made, denied NASCAR plays favorites.

"We don't throw cautions for no reason, we really don't," he said. "To me, the cars are just dots on a screen. There are no numbers or names associated."

At one point Sunday, television replays showed a shredding tire on Joe Nemechek's car knocking debris off the car. This happened during green-flag pit stops, but no yellow came until the cycle of stops was done.

"I think at that time, there was some debris that was down out of the groove," Pemberton said. "As teams made their stops and came down off the track in a normal fashion, some of it could have been kicked up into the racing groove."

Similarly, since the debris Hamlin referred to late in the race was sufficiently out of the groove so as not to cause safety issues, Pemberton said no yellow was displayed.

NASCAR has spotters around the track who are in radio contact with the tower. Officials also have access to television camera shots with up to 18 angles showing the track or views from inside cars.

"We are always going to err on the side of safety, and some calls are easier than others," Pemberton said.

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