Rain gives Reutimann sunny disposition
Posted: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 5:53 pm
By: By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — David Reutimann slipped out his car window, stared up at the rainy, gray sky and waited.
He refused a drink. He turned down a sandwich. He even declined an umbrella.
Reutimann didn’t want to stray too far from his car, didn’t want to take his eyes off the ominous weather and certainly didn’t want to do anything that might change his luck.
Not on this day. Not at this race. Not after all these years.
Reutimann, a 39-year-old journeyman with two lower-tier victories in his previous 265 starts, won the biggest race of his NASCAR career Monday. He gambled during a late caution to grab the lead and eventually won the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
Ryan Newman finished second, followed by Robby Gordon, Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers.
But the real celebration belonged to Reutimann. He had to wait two hours for it, too. He could have done just about anything during the tiresome delay, but Reutimann decided to remain near his No. 00 Toyota.
Reutimann didn’t lead a single green-flag lap. He had a middle-of-the-pack car as teams jockeyed for position just past the halfway point of the gloomy race, which was washed out Sunday and carried over to Monday for the first Memorial Day running in its 50-year history.
The weather wasn’t much better a day later, with intermittent showers all around. But no one knew how long the race would last. They just figured the sport’s longest race wouldn’t go the distance.
When rain brought out a caution flag shortly after the halfway point, leader Kyle Busch led a parade of cars down pit road. But Reutimann, Newman and Gordon didn’t follow, and the three moved to the top of the leaderboard.
They led the field for five laps under caution before NASCAR called the cars back to pit road for the third rain stoppage. Most drivers headed to their motor homes to wait out the rain.
He was joined at his car by his 68-year-old father, Buzzie, a racer with one career NASCAR start who still tears it up in dirt track events at East Bay Raceway near Tampa, Fla.
“It’s been a long road,” Buzzie Reutimann said. “It’s taken us a long time to get here. I’m afraid I’m going to wake up in the morning and find out I’m dreaming all of this. Wow, words can’t describe how great a father would feel to see his son win a race. Seeing that No. 00 up on top of the board, one of the greatest feelings in the world.”
The victory even brought tears to the eyes of car owner Michael Waltrip, whose emotional hug with Reutimann brought back memories of Waltrip’s first victory as a driver.
After Waltrip crossed the finish line in the 2001 Daytona 500, he waited for car owner Dale Earnhardt to congratulate him. He later learned that Earnhardt fatally crashed coming out of the final turn, seconds before Waltrip crossed the finish line.
“I kind of warned David,” said Waltrip, who picked up his first victory as an owner. “I’m feeling pretty good about this hug I’m fixing to give you. So that hug was for David and it was also to sort of make up for something that I missed out on when I won a race one day.”
Waltrip nicknamed Reutimann “The Franchise” earlier this season and even had the moniker placed on Reutimann’s car. It stayed there for a few months, until Reutimann asked for it to be taken down.
“We took that off his car because I think it went to his head a little bit,” Waltrip joked. “He started running into stuff. We said we’re going to remove that. Now he won, so we’re not going to put it back on there.”
Seriously, though, Waltrip had high praise for his top driver.
“He has been, and in my opinion, will always be the cornerstone of MWR because of what he’s accomplished for us, especially getting his first win,” Waltrip said. “We wanted people to notice him. He was doing so many wonderful things, so we nicknamed him that.”