David Reutimann * Kickin’ the asterisk
Saturday’s unambiguous win eclipses
debate over 2009 victory
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
Anyone who understands Sprint Cup racing knows how difficult it is to win a race, even when the victory comes as a result of a perfect pit strategy in a rain-shortened event. Last year, both David Reutimann and Joey Logano won Cup races from far back in the field by staying on the track, successfully gambling that rains would end the race before the faster cars could overtake them.
But the reality is that those kinds of wins aren’t looked upon the same as one in which a driver and crew overpower the competition. It’s like there’s an asterisk beside the winning statistic.
Reutimann lived under the asterisk for more than a year after he won the rain-shortened 2009 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But on Saturday night, in the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, he drove by Jeff Gordon then held off a fast-closing Carl Edwards to score an outright, no-question-about-it Sprint Cup victory. It was a popular one among his fellow drivers, who seem to appreciate his self-deprecating humor and the work ethic that saw him keep digging until he finally landed in the Cup series at age 35. And, more importantly, there was no asterisk this time.
“There was no rain tonight,” Reutimann said in Victory Lane. “We earned this one. Nobody gave it to us, and that feels really good …We took a lot of heat for how we won the first race. Tonight, we just had the car to beat.”
Ty Norris, the general manager at Reutimann’s Michael Waltrip Racing team, explained in the winner’s interview session just how much the latest win meant to Reutimann and the entire organization.
Norris said that in his many years in the sport, he’d never seen a driver have to answer as many questions about a Cup win as Reutimann did about his Coke 600 victory.
“I’ve probably not seen anyone have to walk around for a year and a half and apologize about winning a race,” Norris said. “Winning that Coca-Cola 600 because of rain, everyone sort of like had the asterisk next to that win. Tonight was a huge statement.”
Norris said part of the credit goes to Toyota Racing Development, which gave Reutimann an improved engine and car. And the Rodney Childers-led crew stepped up when it counted. But mostly Norris said he was proud that Reutimann was able to beat drivers like Gordon and Edwards without the benefit of a timely rain storm.
“I think, more than anything else, it’s redemption for David [Reutimann],” he said.
With the victory, Reutimann pulled to within 96 points of the top 12, and now he’s beginning to be looked upon as a legitimate contender for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins after seven more races. That’s a dramatic turn-around from earlier this year, when he left the eighth race of the season, at Texas Motor Speedway, 30th in the points standings.
But he said he never doubted his team’s ability to bounce back and still has confidence he can join the elite 12 for the 10-race run for the title.
“I think we can,” Reutimann said. “I’ve always felt that way. Even when we were 30th, I felt like we could. It wasn’t looking like it was going to make it. Team-wise we were the caliber of team we felt like we could do it …
“We may fly under the radar. But the people that matter know we can contend.”