Reutimann Awarded Victory At Coca-Cola 600
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
With NASCAR battling big issues like a sagging economy and drops in TV ratings and attendance at tracks, the last thing the sport needed was another showcase event cut short by rain.
The premature end of the Daytona 500 this year because of rain has been blamed by many for the decline in TV ratings and attendance. Now, another marquee event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway has failed to live up to expectations because of rain.
The 600, NASCAR’s longest race, is intended to be a marathon, but only in the sense that the race is 100 miles longer than most.
The much anticipated 50th running of the 600 turned into an endurance event for fans and participants as the race dragged on through Sunday into Monday evening because of persistent rain. A halt was finally called with 227 laps completed and David Reutimann taking his first career Sprint Cup win. He did it with pit strategy after Kyle Busch dominated the laps run under the green flag.
Mike Bliss won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Lowe’s in similar fashion, taking the win in another race in which Busch had the best car.
Most of the fans who stayed around for Monday were long gone before Reutimann’s victory celebration finally began nearly two hours after the last lap was run. The most dramatic moments of the afternoon came after the racing stopped as Reutimann, standing beside his car on pit road in the rain, agonized on national TV before he was officially announced as the winner.
It was the first Cup win for Reutimann in 75 career Cup starts, and he becomes the 20th driver to win in NASCAR’s top three=2 0series, including Nationwide and Camping World Trucks. It was the first victory in Cup for Michael Waltrip Racing and for crew chief Rodney Childers and the first in Cup for a Toyota fielded by a team other than Joe Gibbs Racing. It also was the shortest 600 ever.
“It certainly wasn’t the prettiest win, but somebody’s got to win these things,” Reutimann said. “It’s so hard to win these deals, we’ll take them any way we can get them.”
Reutimann’s biggest win ever came in a race in which he never led a green-flag lap. Kyle Busch did most of the leading. He was out front for 173 laps in the race, which was stopped on three occasions because of wet weather.
But on the last caution flag for rain, Busch and most of the rest of the lead pack made pit stops, thinking the race would be resumed.
Reutimann, running 14th at the time, gambling that the race wouldn’t restart, stayed on the track and took the win, leading the last five laps under the yellow flag. Pole sitter Ryan Newman played the same strategy to get the runner-up spot. Robby Gordon did the same thing to finish third.
Kyle Busch finished sixth.
Tony Stewart, who had words with Reutimann during one of the rain delays, was gracious afterwards. “A good guy won the race and they won it because they made the right call at the end,” Stewart said. “They put themselves in that position and you can’t take anything away from that.”
The top five in the points standings remain unchanged with Jeff Gordon still le ading Stewart, the runner-up. Reutimann moved up two spots to 13th, six markers out of the top 12.
David Ragan said the rainy weekend made for a marathon of waiting.
The official length of the race was two hours, 48 minutes and 59 second, but rain delays pushed the total time to more than six and a half hours on Monday, on top of the hours spent sitting in the rain Sunday night before the race was called.
“We sat around the Lowe’s Motor Speedway last night in a couple hours of traffic and got back up and it seems like that’s what we’ve been doing all morning,” he said, adding that any race strategy was hard to play out because of the on-and-off nature of the race. “It seems like once we get it close to being dialed in another rain shower comes and we kind of have to start over again.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org