Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle – What have you done for me lately?

David Reutimann has scored two wins for Michael Waltrip Racing in the Sprint Cup Series. A quick perusal of the record books under MWR will reveal that the organization has notched exactly two victories in its short history. Reutimann’s second victory came at Chicago in 2010 so he is barely a year removed from that win. In the meantime Martin Truex, Jr. has booked three top-5 finishes in the last two years for MWR. The word is now coming through the rumor mill that Mark Martin is may be planning to run a partial schedule in the No. 00 in 2012 with team owner Michael Waltrip running most, if not all, of the plate races. It is quite disloyal if the rumors are true considering Reutimann signed a contract extension that was announced at Indianapolis last summer, the week after he won at Chicago, that assured him he’d be in the No. 00 with Aaron’s on the car through at least 2012.

Stock car racing has proven to be a very instant gratification sport in recent history but this just might be one of the most extreme examples in the last few years. Reutimann has been with MWR since it began fielding Toyotas in the Cup series back in 2007, even running a race for Waltrip in 2005 before Toyota entered the sport. Reutimann has been through all of the growing pains, not only associated with starting up a racing organization, but also the trials and tribulations of a manufacturer breaking into the sport for their first time. Reutimann had occasional good runs in the first couple of years, finishing 2008 with four top-10 finishes and a pole position at Homestead to close out the season.

Fast forward to 2009 when Reutimann scored the first win for the fledgling organization in the Coca-Cola 600, a rain shortened event that finished well short of the advertised distance on Monday. By the time the checkers flew at Homestead he had five top 5s, 10 tops 10s and two pole positions to go along with the ground-breaking victory. Reutimann finished that season 16th in the ponit standings. The following season he had similar numbers with the win at Chicago, six top 5s and nine top 10s which was good enough for 18th in points.

This season has been a tough year for MWR in general, with the teams not having the kind of success they did in previous years coupled with the penalties last week over windshield violations at Talladega. A glance at the current standings shows that Truex sits 24th with two top 5s and 10 top 10s while Reutimann finds himself a distant 28th after scoring a lone top 5 and two top 10s. While the year has obviously been a disappointing one for the entire organization, it hasn’t been exceptionally worse for Reutimann vs. Truex, Jr.

But performance aside, loyalty in NASCAR is far from what it used to be and the result has been drivers being dropped from rides much more quickly than they would have been in previous years. Gone are the days when a driver would spend his entire career with one organization and often one sponsor. Now the series has only a handful of drivers who have driven for the same owner for their entire career and even fewer who have driven for one sponsor. Team owners have lost control of their products and are bending over backwards to fulfill their sponsors’ whims whether it makes good racing sense or not. And in the end the entire sport is suffering because fans are being torn in multiple directions thanks to drivers and sponsors switching around among teams and manufacturers.

Interestingly it would seem like the one owner among all of them who would truly appreciate loyalty would be Waltrip. His story was quite well documented after he finally broke into the victory column after nearly 500 starts without a win, driving for Dale Earnhardt. People told Earnhardt he was crazy to give Waltrip a ride and the Intimidator ignored the popular belief and put the journeyman driver in a car that ended up winning the Daytona 500 in his first start for Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated. Waltrip got a ride because someone believed in him and ignored the common belief. Now he is turning around and apparently kicking Reutimann to the curb in order to put Mark Martin in the car for some of the races in 2012 and taking the seat himself for some of them. It is a shame that his memory is so short.

Reutimann has been a great company man for Waltrip. Soldiering on and making the best of a situation even when the entire team was struggling with making the new Toyotas work in the sport, he’s allowed himself to be the brunt of the Aaron’s commercials that continually feature Waltrip even though he seldom climbs behind the wheel anymore. All the while he has kept his nose to the grindstone and tried to make the company better and been a great spokesperson for the sponsor and the team. In return he is apparently out of a Cup ride.

There is no question that MWR and Reutimann in particular has struggled this season. It seems like a long time ago that he was in victory lane at Chicagoland, and apparently it’s too long for his boss who’s planning to stick an older driver who doesn’t want to run all of the races into the car so that he can have the wheel for the plate races, which are the only ones where he can really compete anymore. Reutimann is being given just a couple of months to find a new ride at a time when open seats are very few and very far between. In the end it apparently has come down to what have you done for me lately which, in Reutimann’s case, is not enough.

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