Reutimann ready to defend Coca Cola 600 title |

Reutimann ready to defend Coca Cola 600 title

AP Auto Racing Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – David Reutimann nervously paced pit road last season, praying that the sun would stay away and racing would not resume at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He stood in the rain an agonizing two hours, certain NASCAR would not call the race anytime soon. Sure, the forecast was bleak, but Reutimann had never been a benefactor of good luck or great timing.

“These things don’t ever go our way,” he said to himself. “I don’t know why it should now.”

But for the first time in his NASCAR career, Reutimann caught a break.

The journeyman driver picked up the only win of his Sprint Cup Series career when NASCAR stopped the Coca-Cola 600 last season just past the halfway point. He won it on a gamble: running 14th when the leaders pitted, his crew chief told him to stay out and pray the sky would open up.

The decision gave Reutimann the lead for the next five laps, all run under caution. NASCAR then called the cars to pit road for a third rain stoppage, and Reutimann stood by his Toyota the entire time.

A year later, as he prepares to defend that victory, he jokes about how his spot in the record books is viewed.

“It is what it is,” Reutimann said. “You always have that little star beside it. You don’t like it because people look at it different. So it just drives you more to go out there to win it the way you want to win it to begin with.

“Trust me, I didn’t want to win the race that way. It’s just the way it worked out.”

The irony that there’s a perceived asterisk next to Reutimann’s name is not lost on the driver or his Michael Waltrip Racing team. No matter how well the 40-year-old driver does, gaining respect and recognition is no easy feat.

It drives his bosses at MWR nuts, mostly because they couldn’t be happier with the driver they call “The Franchise.”

“It’s so frustrating how little respect he gets,” said MWR general manager Ty Norris. “This is a guy who has run well enough to be eighth in the points right now … He’s really run very well, and he doesn’t get any recognition for it.”

Reutimann heads into today’s race ranked 20th in the standings, but only 172 points out of the 12th Chase for the Sprint Cup championship qualifying position. His ranking would be higher if not for blown motors at Atlanta, Bristol and Texas – he was running inside the top 10 in all three races.

“We’re ahead of where we were last year as far as performance,” Reutimann said. “But as far as finishes, we’re not even close. We haven’t been able to catch anything that would even resemble a break. I can’t explain why. The good thing is we’ve had speed and we’ve had things going in the right direction until something bad has gone wrong.”