NASCAR: Coca-Cola 600 Victory Gives David Reutimann a True Arrival

Bryan HoltCorrespondent IMay 26, 2009

CONCORD, NC - MAY 25:  David Reutimann, driver of the #00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, poses in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, 2009 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Reutimann won the Coca-Cola 600 due to a rain out on lap 227.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

In modern-day NASCAR, where prima donnas and dramatic feuds are abundant, David Reutimann is something of an outsider.

A blue-collar driver, Reutimann has never been an 18-year-old phenom or an open-wheel superstar using his fame to cash in on a Sprint Cup contract.  Despite numerous opportunities, he has never verbally trashed his pit crew in post-race interviews or threatened to "put somebody in the wall" next race.

Cliches be damned, Reutimann is a dying breed. In today's NASCAR, sponsors want the edgy celebrity driver who will garner them as much publicity as possible. Bombastic personalities such as Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, and Juan Pablo Montoya benefit heavily from this. David Reutimann? Not so much.

A simple guy born into a racing family, Reutimann finally garnered his first taste of Sprint Cup gold on Memorial Day at the age of 39. A true journeyman of each level of racing's progressions, the Coca-Cola 600 victory was the result of a very long road for Reutimann. 

Billed from Zephyrhills, Florida, Reutimann is the product of a family that is notorious at many short tracks around the country. His father, Buzzie Reutimann, is enshrined in the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame and made an appearance in one NASCAR Race in 1962, finishing 10th. Now 68, Buzzie still races open wheel modifieds, primarily at East Bay Raceway in Gibsonton, Florida.

Much like his father, David Reutimann began his career racing modifieds and late models on many of the same dirt tracks that his family's previous generation had graced. He then began a six year run in the then-Slim Jim All Pro Series, winning Rookie of the Year in 1997. He would continue this ride until he received his first big break in the business, a contract to race for Darrell Waltrip Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Reutimann became a quiet success in the truck series. He was an occasional driver in the Busch Series before getting his ride with Michael Waltrip Racing, a team making its Nextel Cup debut in 2007. Reutimann would run full time in both the Nextel Cup Series and the Busch Series in 2007, finishing second in points in the Busch Series but struggling badly in the big show.

His unsuccessful 2007 campaign would spark a series of sponsorship troubles for Reutimann. Discarded by Burger King and Domino's Pizza, he would take over Dale Jarrett's UPS car, only to be ditched yet again, this time in favor of David Ragan. 

Through all of this, team owner Michael Waltrip stood firmly behind Reutimann and was able to muster a half-season sponsorship out of Aaron's for his 2009 season. Waltrip was eventually successful in extending the sponsorship to a full season deal as Reutimann showed clear improvements on the track. 

As the rain-out verdict was officially announced in Charlotte, the joy of victory could be seen beyond David Reutimann. The loyalty of Waltrip and the gamble by Aaron's had finally paid off.

To truly understand Reutimann's character, it is important to look back at the NASCAR Nationwide Series 2008 Kroger On Track for the Cure 250 at Memphis Motorsports Park. 

With the final laps approaching, Reutimann found himself in second place behind Carl Edwards. With just enough power to get to his bumper but not quite enough to cleanly pass Edwards, Reutimann was left with two choices, one of them painfully tempting.

Bump Edwards out of the way and enjoy the rewards of victory or show the leader more respect and settle for the runner-up title. Uncharacteristic of the modern driver, Reutimann chose the latter. Being urged to move Edwards by his pit crew and having to face the frustrations of losing a winnable race, Reutimann's inner-nice guy prevailed.

"It came down to the last couple of laps where I could have easily had gotten into his back bumper, moved him and gone on," Reutimann said, "but that's not the way I like to do things. It's not the way I was taught to race. Hopefully it will come back someday, but now it just feels lousy to lose."

 

Edwards was both shocked and impressed by the classy manner in which Reutimann approached the situation.

 

"My crew was telling me his guys were getting on him to bump me," Edwards said. "I'd go down low, and was waiting for the contact. To be honest, I'm not sure how I would have reacted before today if I were in his position. But from now on, he's got the free pass from me. David really earned my respect."

 

With new exposure surrounding Reutimann and his recent improvements, it will be interesting to see where his career goes from here. 

 

I am definitely not a fan of telling people who to root for. However, if you stand firmly against Kyle Busch slamming his pit crew after a loss or drivers with no stock car experience using their name to jump to Sprint Cup, then David Reutimann just might be your guy. A throwback to a time when competitors were hard-working veterans who approached the sport with respect, one can only hope that Reutimann can become a more prominent figure in NASCAR.

 

For fans that believe that NASCAR has become too commercial and gotten away from its roots, Reutimann just may be a figure that can bring them back to the track.