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Pedley: Reutimann Victory A Popular One

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 13 2010

David Reutimann won the trophy and mowed the lawn at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday night. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Joliet, Ill. – Victories are all equal in the eyes of statisticians. For the rest of us, some mean more than others. For a large group of people involved in NASCAR, David Reutimann got a very meaningful victory last Saturday night at Chicagoland Speedway.

It was one of those which turned Victory Lane into a greeting line as the biggest stars in the sport converged to congratulate one of those rare if-I-can’t-win-then-I-hope-he-does drivers.

Reutimann’s peers have quietly respected the quite guy from Florida for a number of years and for a number of reasons.

Reasons like empathy. Reutimann’s only previous Sprint Cup win came at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May of 2009. It was a weather-shortened job and here’s the story on those: Many fans and many media members regard them as asterisk jobs. You know; half of a victory – tops.

Reutiman knows that. In Victory Lane, with an obnoxious microphone in his face he said, yes, winning at Chicagoland was sweet because, “We took a lot of heat for how we won the first race.”

Other drivers know how rain-shortened victories are viewed by the outside world as well. And it aggravates them to no end. They know what it takes just to be in position to win a race – be it after 500 miles or 251. When a driver relegates that asterisk to insignificance by winning a full race, it produces contact satisfaction among the peer group. Especially when the guy getting the win is somebody like Reutimann.

Which is another reason why people like Chevy driver Jeff Gordon and Ford driver Carl Edwards elbowed their way to Victory Lane to congratulate Reutimann: They respect the way Reutimann conducts himself on and off the race track.

Reutimann is a racer. He got to where he is by way of the route that is preferred by many in the garages and romanticized by most in the grandstands. He worked alongside his father, Buzzie Reutimann, who drove the short tracks of the Southeast and was inducted into a couple halls of fame as a result. David’s Cup car now carries his dad’s number, 00, and Buzzie now works alongside the son.

Drivers like that stuff. The ones who took similar paths to Cup like it because they can identify. Some of the ones who did not take that path, kind of wish they would have as it gives track cred.

A member of the Michael Waltrip Racing team also told me that Reutimann is like Tony Stewart. The guy said that both Stewart and Reutimann would be just has happy driving short tracks in sprint cars or Late Models as they are in Cup. It is money and the need to compete against the best that keeps them in Cup, though not necessarily in that order.

On the track, Reutimann is a 50-50 guy – he gives and takes at an even rate. That’s big with other wheelmen. It is another major generator of respect.

“That’s really nice to hear,” Reutimann said late Saturday evening when somebody pointed out how popular he is among his peers. “Generally in the garage area, nobody tells you anything unless you’re really screwing up. Then they come over and tell you.  I’ve been on that end of it. I made Bobby Labonte mad. Who makes Bobby Labonte mad?  I did that my rookie year.  You know if you’re making a guy like him mad you’re probably doing something wrong. I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of it.

“It feels really good to hear stuff like that. Generally as you go along, drivers are not all warm and fuzzy.  We’re all competitors out there.  But to hear people say that, that’s pretty special. It’s not something I knew.”

Of course, the garage area happiness for Reutimann could all be short-lived. They guy and his team are starting to perform like crazy right now. Eleven weeks ago, they were 30th in points. Next week they head to Indianapolis for the Brickyard 15th and just 96 points out of 12th.

On Saturday, about 27 hours before the start of his victorious Cup ride, Reutimann was sliding out of his Nationwide car after qualifying. As he peeled off his helmet, sweat poured down his face and through the start of a beard he is growing. As we walked to his hauler, his eyes squinted at the sun. The double-dip weekend of Cup and Nationwide were clearly taking a toll.

But he managed a couple of smiles as he talked about faster Toyotas and improving finishes. “If we keep it up, we’ll get back up to the Chase, which is where this team belongs and that’s the ultimate goal.”

And a race victory?

“Yeah,” he said, “I think we’re real close to winning.”

He should have said real, real close.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 13 2010