One year ago, David Reutimann won the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 by staying out as the impending weather approached. When the leaders pulled down pit road, Reutimann kept his No. 00 Toyota on the track and took home the trophy as a result.
“I remember when [crew chief] Rodney [Childers] told me to stay out instead of coming in to pit, thinking that he was out of his freaking mind,” he said, looking back on the day that changed his career. “Then, as the rain kept coming and we were standing there on pit road, I thought this might just work out in our favor. We got the big trophy at the end of the race, and I remember thinking maybe he knows what he’s talking about.”
At that point in the season, Reutimann had one top five, two top 10s, no DNFs and was 15th in the standings. He followed up the win the following week by capturing the pole in Dover, Del. Carrying the momentum from the victory, Reutimann and the No. 00 team made a run for the Chase, but eventually came up just short, ending the year 16th in points. Hopes were high he’d take the next step in 2010.
It hasn’t happened. One year after his first career Cup Series win, Reutimann is continuing to show strength, but has been forced to deal with engine issues throughout the year. Sitting 20th in the standings, Reutimann has two top fives, two top 10s and three DNFs (he had none in 2009).
Despite having promising runs, the three DNFs have been the biggest issue for Reutimann, creating an inconsistency that makes it difficult to find his rhythm. He suffered back-to-back engine issues at Atlanta and Bristol, and then two races later another engine failure took Reutimann out of the running at Texas. At Bristol, the No. 00 was one of the stronger cars in the field before the engine let go, and in the other two races Reutimann had the car in the top five when trouble hit.
These failures are not exclusive to No. 00 team, however. Fellow Michael Waltrip Racing-supported drivers Marcos Ambrose and Martin Truex Jr. have also had to deal with engine failures. Ambrose had two engine DNFs to start the year, while Truex Jr.’s problem came at California.
The engine issues not only killed the team’s chances at victory, but dropped Reutimann from ninth in points back to 30th. In last four races, however, Reutimann has jumped 10 spots in the standings to 20th thanks to a top five at Dover and four top-15 finishes.
Already this weekend, Reutimann has shown last year’s win was not a fluke. On Thursday night, Reutimann qualified sixth and Saturday was third-fastest in the morning practice session. Heading into this weekend’s race in Charlotte, Reutimann has the confidence of being the defending winner, and with another strong run this weekend that climb back up the standings could continue.
“I feel like our mile-and-a-half program is good, so I feel pretty confident coming here,” Reutimann said. “Charlotte is a tough racetrack, and it’s a racetrack that you have to stay up on top of. From the outside looking in, it doesn’t look like anything any different than any of the other racetracks that we go to. It drives different, it’s very temperature-sensitive, and it’s just a tough racetrack. It will always be a tough place.”
So while the stats on paper don’t make Reutimann the favorite, the on-track performance still says otherwise. Remember, this team is not out of the hunt due to poor performances or driver error, but instead thanks to multiple mechanical issues. If the organization can figure out what has been plaguing their engine department, the overall performance of MWR, and the No. 00 team in particular, will improve greatly. It may be a long-shot now for Reutimann to make the Chase at the end of the year, but if he can continue running the way he has the last four weeks, with a little luck, he can at least make another run at it.