Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner looks forward to racier 2013
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- David Reutimann has three pieces of advice for any young driver hoping to break into NASCAR.
Don’t trust anyone.
Don’t hire an agent, unless it’s a family member.
And always look out for yourself first.
"From the time I can even remember having a thought, it was being in a race car ..."
-- David Reutimann
“You have to be good, you have to look out for other people, but at the same time you have to concentrate on what’s going on around you … and realize this deal can be gone,” he said. “All it takes is a couple of things in a chain that you can’t control that can derail you for a little while, and you may not have the chance to get back in the capacity that you were.”
They’re hard lessons learned through difficult circumstances by a driver who has two fairly recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories on his resume, but last season found himself wheeling an underfunded and less-than-competitive car. It was a sudden and painful fall for a driver who won at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway, was once dubbed “The Franchise” during his stint at Michael Waltrip Racing and over the last year contemplated getting out of the sport.
“When you spend your entire life being one-track minded and focused on one thing, and then that one thing is gone, you’re not really sure how to deal with it,” he said.
“I‘m not really any good at anything else, and some days, I’m not really good at this, either. But that being said, you become kind of lost, because your sole focus is being in a race car, your entire life. From the time I can even remember having a thought, it was being in a race car, and now you may not have that opportunity. Which is why I started building dirt cars and doing other things, so I could still be involved in some aspect of it, racing my own stuff and doing things like that.”
His time as a NASCAR driver isn’t over, at least not yet. The two-car BK Racing operation, for which Reutimann competed in last year’s Daytona 500, hired him to replace the departed Landon Cassill in the organization’s No. 83 car. That means a full 2013 slate in a vehicle in which Reutimann can actually race every week, which wasn’t always the case last season -- a season of hardships that Reutimann would rather forget.
It’s easy to see why. Seven races in, he was forced to qualify his way into races on speed, having dropped out of the top 35 in owner points. His Tommy Baldwin Racing car too often went out early with an engine failure, a vibration or an overheating issue. And then there was what he even calls “the whole debacle at Martinsville,” where Reutimann’s stalled No. 10 car brought out a caution that forced a green-white-checkered finish, allowed Ryan Newman to escape with a surprise victory, and gave birth to a feud between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon that would manifest itself again much later in the year.
“I’m still taking shots over that one,” Reutimann said in his typically self-effacing manner. “That was probably the lowest point, and that was toward the beginning of the year. It certainly didn’t get any better as the year went on. And nothing against the situation I was in, everyone was doing the best they could. But career-wise, it was one of the lower areas.”
Particularly in comparison to where he had come from. Michael Waltrip Racing was hardly the organization then that it is now, with a pair of drivers in Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. who contended for race wins and berths in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But it was Reutimann who helped give the organization its plucky early identity, providing a team that once struggled to qualify for races with needed credibility by winning the Coca-Cola 600 in 2009 and then prevailing at Chicagoland a year later.
But after falling to 28th in final points the next season, Reutimann found himself out of a job. He hooked on with TBR driving the No. 10 car at events in which Danica Patrick did not participate. His goal was to keep the vehicle in the top 35 to assure her a guaranteed starting spot. His two Sprint Cup race victories suddenly seemed as far away as the moon.
“In this business, you’re only as good as your last race a lot of times. And obviously, my last races have not been very good,” Reutimann said. “If you buy into the stuff that people say, it’s a little disheartening. Because I’m like, wow, I can win races. I almost made the Chase one year when nobody else (at MWR) could. Won races in cars nobody else could at the time with the team I was with. But again, it’s old news, really. You just have to try to do it again to remind people you can.”
Reutimann was prepared to look for another part-time opportunity or get out of the sport altogether when BK Racing owner Ron Devine called, offering him a ride in the No. 83 car. BK was a start-up organization last year, having assumed the assets of the former Red Bull NASCAR team, and the growing pains were obvious. Both cars finished well down the list in final points although Travis Kvapil scored a handful of solid finishes topped by an eighth-place result at Talladega Superspeedway in the fall.
The new ride is a relief, to say the least. “It’s been a little bit stressful, I’m not going to lie,” Reutimann said of his journey over the past year. He entered 2013 prepared to piece together whatever he could, and if nothing materialized, show up at the race track from time to time lobbying whomever might have a ride available. If that didn’t work? He was ready to head home, where his two Sprint Cup race trophies sit on a shelf, and build his dirt cars.
“It’s not something I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t want to step away from the sport. I’m not ready to do that. I feel like I can win races still. But at the same time, you don’t want to be in a situation that you’d feel wasn’t going to benefit you anyway.”
Now, that’s not the case. “I’m really happy for David,” Kvapil said. “Obviously, he’s a proven winner and a guy who can get it done in the Sprint Cup Series. To see him bounce around the last few years, I’m sure it had to be hard for him. It was hard for everybody to watch.”
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