David Reutimann won last year’s Coca-Cola 600 – one of the most prestigious races of the year. The longest event of the season, the 600-mile event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway is a test of endurance and fortitude, yet last year it took two days to complete. Mother Nature had the upper hand for most of the weekend, but it was a bold call by crew chief Rodney Childers that kept the No. 00 of David Reutimann out of the track as the rains came.
Finally, the rain got the upper hand that day and the race was called. Reutimann and Michael Waltrip Racing scored their first win. However, for some – perhaps including the team themselves – there was still something to prove. Saturday night in Chicago, Reutimann earned that long sought after win, and victory has never tasted better.
“First of all, I have to thank the fans and everyone else at Michael Waltrip Racing,” Reutimann said in Victory Lane. “Everybody did such a great job today. Toyota Racing Development and having Tums on the car this weekend, it’s just been a great weekend. 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. 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.”
After scoring his first career victory due to a rain-shortened event, Reutimann has perhaps carried the burden and stigma of having only one win thanks to the rain. A solid driver overall, the fourth-year driver has been a solid contender for much of the season, but has suffered from engine failures and poor luck.
“I felt like there was a cloud over it, no pun intended, but a dark cloud hanging over our head with that win at the 600,” Reutimann said. “Everybody just says, ‘Yeah, you guys won, but.’ Rodney Childers won me that race. He made the right calls. He won me the race tonight. We win and lose as a team. Now I'm just wondering like, Okay, here you go, just leave me alone. We won the race. We did a good job. Everybody did a good job. Everybody around me worked together to get us where we are.”
Saturday night’s win, just eight races before the start of the Chase to the Sprint Cup, was no fluke by Reutimann and his No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing team. Reutimann has three top-fives in the last eight races and moved up two spots to 15th, within 96 points of Clint Bowyer in 12th in the standings. Thanks to Saturday night’s race, Reutimann has an advantage of those ahead of him in the standings thanks to the ten bonus points he earned from this win.
“Like David said, we had a good car right off the truck,” crew chief Rodney Childers said. “Really we just tried not to do anything during practice that would get us off base. We tried a few things and knew that the track would come to us at night. We kept talking about that. It kind of did the same thing at Charlotte. We stuck with what our gut thought there. We never touched the track bar or the jack bolts. That tells us how good it was from the get go. You just got to have track position. Kept fighting our way up there.”
A crucial part of the team since the beginning of MWR, Reutimann and Childers were finally able to show their organization has what it takes to not only compete at the top level, but also close the deal. Throughout the year, both Reutimann and teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose have proven to have strong cars, only to fall victim to poor luck or mechanical failures. Saturday’s win was a total team effort, with the pit crew stepping it up when it mattered most.
“We may fly under the radar. But the people that matter know we can contend to do the things we need to do,” Reutimann said. “Again, we've clawed back from 30th to where we are now. Still got some work cut out for us. Aren't out the woods yet. From the word 'go', last year I felt it about five races in, felt really, really good. Didn't know how Rodney and I were going to work out. New crew chief and stuff like that. Our first race together, I'm like, ‘Heck, this is going to be great.’ From that point on, I felt like we were the caliber of team that could get in the Chase.”
In discussing the organization’s future and current progress, Reutimann explained the addition of Martin Truex Jr. and his crew chief Pat Tryson have also contributed to the overall success. The No. 56 NAPA Toyota has also been strong throughout much of the 2010 season, but they too have fallen victim to poor luck and parts failures.
Overall, MWR has shown they understand what it takes to not only make the Chase in today’s NASCAR, but compete for the title once inside that playoff system. Now in its fourth full season, MWR is no longer a start up team, but a true contender.
Carl Edwards doubled his laps led count on the year by leading two circuits around the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. In his best Sprint Cup Series outing in quite some time, Edwards was able to power his way to second place as Reutimann stole the spotlight.
While he was unable to celebrate in Victory Lane, the runner-up finish was enough to make the Missouri-native proud and look ahead into the future with hope.
“I know we can run that well,” Edwards said. “We've done it. We did it tonight. We just have to figure out how to do that every week. I hope this is something that we can go back, talk about on Monday, figure out why our car was so much different this week than it has been and maybe apply it. We have some mile and a half's and tracks like this coming up the rest of the season that are going to be really important tracks. So, yeah, I hope so.”
Thanks to the runner-up finish, Edwards moved two spots in the standings to 10th.
Making his 600th career start, Jeff Gordon was able to come home in the third spot. Coming along way from his first start that fateful day in 1992 in Atlanta, the four-time champion led twice for a total of 47 laps. A strong car throughout much of the evening, Gordon knew once Reutimann showed up behind him, the No. 00 was going to be the car to beat.
“I noticed in my mirror the 00 was following me and gaining on us. I knew he was the car to beat. He proved it those last hundred laps for sure,” Gordon said. “We just didn't have anything for those guys. We tried to make some adjustments on that last pit stop. We got really, really loose. I was just kind of hanging on for third there at the end.”
Rounding out the top-5 was Richard Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer and pole-sitter Jamie McMurray, while Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Paul Menard made up the rest of the top-10.
While Reutimann’s win was a major boost in the ‘Race to the Chase,’ others in contention for a Chase berth struggled Saturday night.
Four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, fresh off the birth of his first daughter, led a race-high 92 laps, but ended the evening in 25th, one lap down. During a round of green flag pit stops, the No. 48 nearly spun coming to pit road, forcing Johnson to miss pit road and lose the lead to Jamie McMurray. Later in the run, as he battled with Martin Truex Jr. for position, Johnson lost control of the car off Turn 2 and spun down into the grass. Not the night he was looking for, the results were not a total disaster, considering he remains third in the championship standings.
Points leader Kevin Harvick struggled mightily throughout Saturday’s LifeLock.com 400. Starting back in 27th, Harvick and the No. 29 team fought the car all weekend long, but it was a fuel pump issue that sent the No. 29 team to the garage for repairs.
"We had a fuel pressure issue, and we had to go to the garage to repair the fuel pump assembly, so that ended our chance at salvaging a good finish," Harvick said. "But we missed the setup on our Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet, too. We were just extremely loose for most of the race. Tough night for us, but we have a strong race team and we will bounce back at Indy."
Running the new FR9 engine, Greg Biffle took a hit in the standings when he was forced to bring the No. 16 behind the wall. After unloading fast and running strong throughout the night, Biffle radioed he had lost a valve under the hood of the car, eventually ending the day early in 35th. The disappointing finish dropped Biffle one spot to 11th in the standings, just six points from Bowyer in 12th.
With only seven races left before this year’s Chase field is set in Richmond, things are starting to heat up for those battling around the top-12 in points. Following Saturday night’s race in Chicago, the series will take a weekend off and then return in two weeks for the annual trip to the Brickyard.
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