News & Media

Menzer: Reutimann a bright spot in rough weekend for MWR

July 11, 2011, Joe Menzer,

SPARTA, Ky. -- Waltrip wanted to race in Kentucky, but rain canceled quals and owner's chance

Michael Waltrip arrived at Kentucky Speedway last Thursday with a picture of his brother, Darrell, plastered on the hood of a car that he was hell-bent on driving into the Quaker State 400.

It was the inaugural Sprint Cup race at the track in the state where the Waltrip boys were born. Darrell Waltrip was an outspoken advocate of the 1.5-mile track for years, not to mention on the payroll as a "consultant."

Press Pass

David Reutimann opens up at how good it feels to finally finish up front.

So when the Cup boys finally came racin', Michael wanted to be one of them -- even though he no longer drives full time and spends most of his days wearing solely his ownership hat at Michael Waltrip Racing. He did his part, too, turning a lap during qualifying Friday that appeared plenty fast enough to put him in the field.

But then a bad thing happened. The rains came, qualifying was washed out -- and because Waltrip had fewer qualifying attempts than some others this season, he was left out of the 267-lap show that commenced Saturday night.

"Mike deserved to be in the race, for sure. He definitely had the speed. He was going to be in good shape, and it's a shame it didn't work out," said one of his drivers, David Reutimann. "Michael sent me a text right before the race and said, 'Win this one for me, please.'"

He almost did. After spending most of the night hovering around the top 10 or inside it, Reutimann put on a late charge and ended up second behind race winner Kyle Busch.

"We came up just a little bit short," Reutimann said.

Appeasing the owner

Reutimann heard from Waltrip just after the race ended.

"He came across the radio after the race was over -- and he seemed pretty happy," Reutimann said. "As long as we can keep Mike happy, well, it's still his name on the door -- so keeping the owner happy is a big deal."

The swings in emotions from Friday to Saturday for all of the folks at Michael Waltrip Racing were huge. No, Reutimann did not win the race. But the second-place finish was by far his best of the season and also was better than any finish managed in the first 17 races by his MWR teammate, Martin Truex Jr.

Reutimann had expected to contend for a spot in the Chase this season. Instead, he entered the Kentucky race sitting a dismal 26th in points, and Truex was only slightly better in 23rd.

So when the disappointment of the owner getting bumped from the field by a few ill-timed raindrops was added to the pile of woes, the entire organization was in dire need of a dose of good news. Reutimann delivered the next best thing to a victory.

"We've been capable of running this way all year. We just haven't," Reutimann said. "We've just been missing it a little bit, or the driver messes up, or something else happens. In the end, I'm proud of my guys. We had good pit stops, a great race car. Good horsepower from Toyota. We were in contention to win and they gave us an opportunity to win, and that's all you can ask for in this sport."

Reutimann wanted to stress that it was a total team effort.

"We've been capable of running this way all year. We just haven't."


"One thing about this sport, it changes every week," he said. "We seem to have been behind on things. Heck, we knew we were behind. But you don't just make changes overnight.

"Between the help of Toyota and their engineering staff, Toyota Racing Development, all the guys at Michael Waltrip Racing, guys being in the wind tunnel working their guts out, they finally got us a car -- at least this weekend -- that was closer to what we needed."

Catching the faster guys

When he was asked Saturday night to comment on "parity in the sport" and the fact that the top 10 finishers in the race were comprised of cars from all four manufacturers, Reutimann drew chuckles with his brutally honest answer.

"To be honest with you guys, I haven't run close enough to the front to notice if there's any parity or not," he said. "It seems kind of unfair from where I'm sitting."

There was a fleeting moment during the final two laps when Reutimann thought his No. 00 Toyota might be able to run down the No. 18 of Busch to fulfill the pre-race wishes of his owner. On the final restart, Reutimann lined up on the outside of the second row behind Busch, with Jimmie Johnson, who was in second at the time, lining up on the inside of the front row.

After slipping a bit on the restart, Reutimann made a nice move to slip past the five-time defending Cup champion and take away second.

"I wasn't really sure if we had a shot at the end, or not. Those guys were racing pretty hard," Reutimann said. "We didn't take off as good as we needed to there. But getting into [Turn] 3, I said, 'Wow, this is a pretty neat deal. Let's go and win this thing.' We just came up a little bit short."

It was so close to what Waltrip requested that both driver and owner seemed satisfied with the end result of the up-and-down-and-up-again weekend.

"It's been an awful season for us," Reutimann said candidly. "At the end of last year, it felt like we were making gains. This year we haven't had the results we've been looking for.

"With that being said, it's easy to get upset and down when things aren't going well. The guys are trying hard to figure out why we're not running well -- and hence, we have a better car this weekend. I'm not saying that's the answer, the magic bullet. But it's a step in the right direction. And it feels great."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.