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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reutimann victory well-deserved, shows others can win

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
David Reutimann celebrates in Chicagoland Speedway’s Victory Lane after getting his second series win.

It’s hard to feel anything but good about the win David Reutimann pulled off at Chicagoland this weekend.

His road to success hasn’t been the one many newer Cup drivers take.
He is not a spring chicken, he’s 40 years old. (Or as the Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy once famously said: “I’m a man! I’m 40!”)

He comes from a racing family, grew up the son of a short-track legend, Buzzie Reutimann, and dreamed of making it on the NASCAR stage one day despite not getting there at a young age.

Unlike the young stars of today, who often are groomed from childhood by the big teams and start their first Nationwide race at age 18, Reutimann didn’t make his major series start until age 32, and wasn’t a full-time NASCAR driver until age 34, when he began driving in the Truck series for Darrell Waltrip.

In the short time he has been in the Cup series, he has been fairly inconsistent, but that’s in part due to the nature of running with a new team – Michael Waltrip Racing – for which he has become the public face.

He had one prior win, but nobody cared because it was a rain-shortened event where he only led for five laps under caution. He and his crew almost had to apologize for winning.

After his dominating win at Chicagoland, where he had to pass legends like Jeff Gordon to win, there will be no more apologizing.

Reutimann and his crew chief Rodney Childers gave emotional Victory Lane interviews, and you could almost see the monkey lifting off his back in Victory Lane.
"I don't even know what to say. It was probably the lamest burnout I've ever seen at this race track, I was tearing up pretty bad,” he said. “I have to thank all my guys, they did a great job. There was no rain tonight. We earned this one, nobody gave it to us and that feels really good."

He said the win is a sign of the future for his team and the Michael Waltrip Racing team as a whole, which also saw a strong run from teammate Martin Truex Jr. for part of Saturday’s race.

"Every one of these guys you see behind me that works on this car and the guys at the fab shop, Toyota and Toyota Racing Development has given us some great horsepower tonight, it's phenomenal horsepower and it's just a total team effort. I heardso much stuff for winning a rain-shortened event (at Charlotte last year) that everybody said we didn't earn it. I don't know what they can say about this one."

No one is expecting any miracles from here on out, and the MWR team still has a long way to go to catch up to teams like Hendrick and Gibbs, but it’s nice to see some new teams doing well, and a likable guy like Reutimann being one of the new list of contenders.

If he can ride this momentum into strong finishes over the next 7 races, he may be able to make the Chase, which would be a pretty impressive feat – and something he just missed doing in 2009. And just like Saturday’s win was applauded by fans and his fellow competitors, Reutimann making the Chase would also be a very positive story for NASCAR. It’s not likely he could tackle the Jimmie Johnsons of the world, but it would be nice to see him try.

Was that the 99 up front?
Alert the police: A missing person has been found.
That missing person is a competitive Carl Edwards, who was in the running to take the checkered flag at Chicagoland, finishing 2nd. If the race had been longer, he might have won.

Is this a trend? Edwards certainly hopes so.
“Second is bittersweet. You want to win, but we are obviously very happy with the result. If we run that well every week we will win plenty of races. The key is that we ran so well. If we can continue that every week we will be in good shape,” he said.

Jr. tells it like it is
Some drivers sugar-coat it when you ask them how their night went. That wasn’t the case with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after a terrible run at Chicagoland.
"We had just a really shitty, shitty driving car all night,” he said. “We made it worse at times and made it better at time. We just weren't very good. There aren't any excuses, we just weren't very good."

He said it wasn’t for lack of effort trying to get the car running better.
"We tried all the way to the end, we just didn't have any chances that really responded. We wore out every right rear tire we put on my car to the cords. So what are you going to do? I just let Lance rip away, man. I let him swing away trying to get the car as good as we can get it. I believe what he does is right. Tonight some adjustments didn't respond like we thought they should of, but, sometimes this car doesn't behave like you think it would. Some things you do to it don't really turn around and do what you think. We are pretty disappointed, little bit devastated about how we ran tonight. We got nobody to blame but ourselves. We worked really hard in practice trying to get better because this was about how we were going to run. We just couldn't make it better all night."

600 for Gordon
It’s a testament to the long, successful career of Jeff Gordon that on the night he made start No. 600, he had a car good enough to win the race. While he’s no longer dominating like he did in the 1990s, he is remaining far more competitive than most drivers are at start 600 (see Bobby Labonte, who will have start 600 at Indy, for comparison).

Looking back, I remember watching Gordon win nearly every race I attended as a fan for a period of about 2-3 years. It was quite frustrating to see that every time, but you couldn’t deny his team’s dominance in that era.

Gordon said this weekend that No. 600 is a big accomplishment for him,
“We've done some amazing things over those 600. I'm proud of it. I'm proud 600 in we're still competitive enough to win races like we were tonight. Put up a heck of a fight.

After Saturday’s race, 2nd-place finisher Carl Edwards shared a story about his memories of Gordon’s beginnings.
“I remember I was at the grocery store, probably in 1993, with my Mom and I picked up a racing magazine on the rack and remember thinking how this guy had it made. There you were on the cover of the magazine standing next to your race car. You had a cool race car, driver suit, mustache and mullet. I was thinking that I couldn’t even grow a mustache. It is so cool to be sitting up here with you and on the night of your 600th career start. Congrats man, it is a great milestone.”

Needless to say, he’s come a long way since that mustache and mullet era.

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