May 26, 2009 in Sports

Reutimann reigns in rain

First Cup win comes in Coca-Cola 600
Jenna Fryer Associated Press

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 came Monday after 75 races, three rain delays, a moment of silence and a 2-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 … 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 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 2 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.”

“I wasn’t racing to be a NASCAR driver. I was just racing to race, to be able to be like my dad, make a living at racing,” Reutimann said of his early years in the sport. “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, though Gordon might have a problem. NASCAR confiscated his rear axle housing following post-race inspection for further evaluation.

Carl Edwards was fourth and Brian Vickers was fifth.

Reutimann, 39, didn’t get his break in the Cup series until 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.

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

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