Bristol and Martinsville, the two shortest tracks on the NASCAR circuit, are challenging under the best of circumstances. That they are the next two on the schedule puts that much more pressure on those teams desperate to remain among the all-important top 35 in points.
According to The Charlotte Observer’s David Poole, 39 of the 54 drivers who have made the Chase in its first five years have been among the top 12 after four races. Among the drivers fighting for their top 35 lives after four races are Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, and Mark Martin.
In stark and surprising contrast is David Reutimann (above), who finds himself in an enviable 12th
in points. For Reutimann and his team – Michael Waltrip Racing, an outfit that one could charitably say has struggled since it launched – these next two races will go at least part of the way toward determining if he in particular and MWR in general have turned the corner toward respectability.
By at least one measure, Reutimann and the No. 00 team have already answered that question. Though he finished a difficult 32nd at Atlanta, Reutimann opened the season with finishes of 12th, 14th, and fourth, arguably the best stretch of his brief career.
“It’s still early, and there’s still a lot of racing,” he said last week, “but I think it just shows how far the organization has come, to be in the position we are right now. We’re making some good gains, and it’s fun to drive the cars right now.”
The question, of course, is will life look quite as good after the next two races? Reutimann’s record at Bristol and Martinsville is mixed – he finished a respectable 25th and 20th at unpredictable Bristol in 2008, but struggled at Martinsville, where he finished 39th and 24th. Nevertheless and while the Chase is both a long way off and a longshot for Reutimann and his team, he is well aware of the importance of making the best of a difficult two weeks.
“Seems like you’re always trying to stay somewhere, whether it’s inside the top 12 or inside the top 35” he said when asked about the points and these upcoming races. “I don’t think your approach changes any. You’re still going to go out there and be careful and finish the races, because those type of racetracks can get you in trouble very quickly. Both racetracks, you don’t even have to do anything wrong and you can get caught up in a situation that happens five or six cars ahead of you.”
Whatever happens over the course of the next two races, Reutimann has reason to feel confident that this year will be different than his previous two with MWR. He credits both stability – core personnel is unchanged from last year – and the addition of new crew chief Rodney Childers – with remaking the team and redefining its own expectations.
“I think toward the end of last year, we started to get a handle on the newer version of the car,” he said. “About three-quarters of the way through, we started to see the results – at least we did. And [we] carried a little bit of that momentum during the off season. Everything has kind of jelled rather quickly. And I’ll tell you, the start of the season has been really good for us. Although, the keyword being it’s the start of the season – we still have a lot more racing to go.”
And the rest of the season starts this Sunday.