December 20, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
29°F
test

Reutimann wins first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600

CONCORD, N.C. – David Reutimann stared at the gray sky and silently prayed for one more heavy rain.
A gamble had put the journeyman driver in position for his first Sprint Cup Series victory, and so long as the clouds lingered over Lowe`s Motor Speedway, it would come in the crown jewel Coca-Cola 600.

Reutimann didn`t like his chances.

“These things don`t ever go our way,” the 39-year-old thought. “I don`t know why it should now.”

For most of his nondescript career, Reutimann never got the lucky break.

It finally came Monday after 75 races, three rain delays, a moment of silence, a spat with Tony Stewart and a two-hour wait.

NASCAR declared Reutimann the winner when an ominous weather forecast indicated it would be impossible to run the longest race of the season to its conclusion. The drivers had figured that out a day earlier, when the race was postponed and carried over to Memorial Day for the first time in its 50-year history.

“It wasn`t the prettiest win, but somebody has to win,” he said. “When you envision yourself winning your first Sprint Cup race, you envision it different. But it`s so hard to win these deals, we`ll take it any way we can.”

With intermittent showers spraying the track all day Monday, the race was one of strategy, as every driver simply tried to be in front when the event was finally washed out.

Reutimann gave it his best shot when, running 14th, he and crew chief Rodney Childers decided not to join the parade of cars following leader Kyle Busch down pit road during a caution for rain 22 laps past the halfway point.

The race had reached the point where if it was stopped again for rain, it was official, and the Michael Waltrip Racing team prayed the end was soon.

Reutimann claimed the lead, with pole-sitter Ryan Newman and Robby Gordon following him to the front as the rest of the field went to pit road for fuel and fresh tires. He didn`t lead a single lap under green-flag racing, but was out front for five laps under caution before NASCAR called the cars back to pit road for the third rain stoppage.

Most drivers headed to their motorhomes to wait out the rain.

Not Reutimann.

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. The two didn`t bother with an umbrella as they stood in a steady drizzle for just over two hours.

“I tell you what, people, it`s been a long road. It`s taken us a long time to get here,” Buzzie Reutimann said. “I`m afraid I`m going to wake up in the morning and find out I`m dreaming all of this. Words can`t describe how great a father would feel to see his son to win a race.”

Buzzie Reutimann was in attendance for his son`s other NASCAR victories, a 2007 Nationwide race at Memphis and a 2005 Truck race at Nashville. The duo never imagined they`d make it to the top level, though, when they were eking out a living in lower levels for most of their careers.

“I wasn`t racing to be an NASCAR driver. I was just racing to race, to be able to be like my dad, make a living at racing,” Reutimann said. “When I was at East Bay Raceway running for $350 to win in a late model feature, I wasn`t concerned about being here, I was concerned about making it to next week. That`s been the mentality my whole life.”

Newman finished second and Gordon was third. Carl Edwards, who had changed into street clothes by the time the race was called, finished fourth, followed by Brian Vickers and Busch.

Reutimann didn`t get his break in the Cup series until Michael Waltrip hired him in 2007 when he formed his own race team.  But Michael Waltrip Racing was terrible, and Reutimann was not competitive as he struggled to even make races.

The team has made small strides in the past 2-plus seasons, and Reutimann has carried the banner. He`s lingered around the top 12 in points all season and has given MWR credibility.

Now he`s made MWR the first Toyota team other than Joe Gibbs Racing to win a Cup race.

Waltrip, who earned his second Daytona 500 title after a lengthy rain delay shortened the 2003 event, joined the father and son at the car midway through the final delay.

Reutimann also received a congratulatory call from Stewart, who argued with him and one of his crew members during the second rain delay. Stewart was upset with how hard Reutimann raced him earlier when Stewart had the faster car, and a longtime Reutimann crew member intervened.

“I think Tony felt like I raced him a little harder than I should have,” he said. “That`s all it was.”

Rain ruined a race for Busch for the second time in three days. He led a race-high 173 laps and was out front when he pitted during the final caution. He wound up sixth.

Busch led 143 laps in Saturday night`s Nationwide Series race, lost the lead during a round of pit stops, and never had a chance to reclaim it when the race was shortened by 45 miles because of rain.

“Weather, you can`t do anything about it, really,” Busch said.

Defending race-winner Kasey Kahne was also denied a chance when, as he was closing in on Busch`s bumper, caution was called for rain. In second as they headed down pit road, he wound up seventh when the race never resumed.

It`s the second time this season one of NASCAR`s crown jewel events was ruined by rain. The season-opening Daytona 500 was shortened by 48 laps and Matt Kenseth was declared the winner after a short delay.