JOLIET, Ill. – The first one might have been lucky. This one was legitimate.
David Reutimann blew past Jeff Gordon and cruised to the victory in the Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday night.
For Reutimann and his Michael Waltrip Racing team, it was a polite told-ya-so to fellow competitors – many of whom weren’t shy about saying they didn’t think it counted when Reutimann won a rain-shortened race at Charlotte in May 2009.
Reutimann called that win a dark cloud hanging over his head, pausing briefly when he realized he made an unintentional pun.
“OK, here you go,” he said. “Just leave me alone. We won the race.”
Carl Edwards made a charge in the closing laps, at one point cutting Reutimann’s lead to less than a second, but he couldn’t get close enough and finished second.
Gordon was third, followed by Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray.
It was a rough night for several strong Chase contenders – notably Jimmie Johnson, who dominated the first half of the race but spun out and later scraped the wall to finish 25th.
Kevin Harvick entered with momentum and the points lead but struggled all day long, eventually pulling into the garage with engine problems on lap 194. He eventually returned to the race and finished 34th.
Harvick holds a 103-point lead over Gordon in the standings.
Greg Biffle also went to the garage with apparent engine problems late in the race and finished 35th.
Kyle Busch (17th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (23rd) and Kurt Busch (26th) also had a rough night.
Several drivers said they were happy for Reutimann.
“We all got to hang out with each other every week, but he’s the guy you’d hang out with if you had an off weekend,” Edwards said. “He’s a good guy.”
And as of Saturday night, Reutimann can wave goodbye to any asterisks that were attached to his first career win because of the rain.
“I’ve probably not seen anyone have to walk around for a year and a half and apologize about winning a race,” MWR general manager Ty Norris said.
And Reutimann made it clear he isn’t going anywhere at the end of the season, saying he has a handshake deal with MWR on a new contract. Norris said the team would announce specifics about the futures of Reutimann and crew chief Rodney Childers at the Brickyard 400 later this month.
“These guys proved tonight that they deserve a contract,” Norris said. “They deserve to be around.”
As Reutimann hunted Gordon down for the lead, his team came on the radio and encouraged him to wait for Gordon to make a mistake.
“Are you kidding?” Reutimann joked. “He’s Jeff Gordon. When’s he going to make a mistake?”
But Gordon did develop handling problems, allowing Reutimann to take the lead on lap 213. He moved in front again after a cycle of pit stops.
Johnson, McMurray and Tony Stewart appeared to have the strongest cars early in the race, although Stewart fell back into traffic after a jack problem during the first round of pit stops and never really made his way back into contention.
Johnson looked untouchable at times, but he made an uncharacteristic bobble when he missed the entrance to pit road on lap 94 and nearly spun out. He was running second to McMurray when he spun off the track on lap 137, and after a pit stop Johnson re-entered the race in 24th.