David Reutimann had won before in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
Last season, he won the rain-delayed and rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600. He stayed out during a caution while the rest of the leaders pitted.
Then the rains came. The shower didn't let up. NASCAR called the race, declaring Reutimann the victor.
It was the kind of win that fans and critics alike scoff at. Reutimann’s name, while finally on the wins list, would forever have an asterisk beside it, leading to this footnote: Rain-shortened race win.
Even he wasn’t completely satisfied with that win. “We got this one today, and hopefully the next one we’ll earn it,” said Reutimann on the rain-soaked pit road of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Those are the key words: Earn it. He didn’t want his next win, if it were to ever come at all, to involve rain. He didn’t want to win on a fuel gamble. He didn’t want his next victory to involve anything that would leave critics saying, “Yeah, but….”
Forty-three races later, under the lights of Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, David Reutimann was once again in victory lane. He was once again a winner.
This time, he earned every bit of it.
“I heard so much stuff for winning a rain-shortened event,” said a Gatorade soaked Reutimann in victory lane. “Everybody said we didn’t earn it. Tonight, I don’t what they can say about this one.”
There’s nothing anyone can say. With 55 laps to go in Saturday night’s LifeLock.com 400, Reutimann fought his way around future Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon to take over the top spot. He never relinquished the lead, holding off a hard-charging Carl Edwards by .727 seconds.
It doesn’t get much more legitimate than that.
It was an emotional moment for Reutimann. The burden that was lifted by finally winning a race that went the distance was obvious.
“That was probably the lamest burnout I’ve ever seen at this racetrack. I was tearing up pretty bad,” said Reutimann.
“No rain tonight. We earned this one, nobody gave it to us, and that feels really good.”
This win should feel good for all of NASCAR Nation. It’s refreshing to see a new face in victory lane. It’s certainly a popular win among his peers.
“It’s cool to see David Reutimann win,” said fifth-place finisher Jamie McMurray. “He’s a very deserving driver and that will be a popular win I think among all the guys here in the garage.”
Runner-up Edwards echoed that sentiment.
“He’s the first guy to congratulate you on something and the first guy to apologize if he feels like he did something wrong."
Edwards continued, “We all (have) to hang out with each other every week, but he’s the guy you would hang out with if you had an off weekend. He’s a good guy.”
Gordon, who finished third, wasn’t short on praise, either.
“David is a neat guy, and I just know that win that he had in Charlotte, while he took it and won’t throw away the trophy, earning it the way he earned it tonight is the way he wants to do it.”
While this win is huge for Reutimann by itself, it’s even bigger when considered within the grand scheme of things.
With the victory Saturday, he moved up two spots in the points standings to 15th, only 96 points behind 12th place Clint Bowyer.
While he’s still somewhat of a long shot to make NASCAR’s 12-man Chase for the Sprint Cup, he’s at the very least entered into the conversation.
Reutimann doesn’t think he’s out of the hunt yet.
“All year, if you look at how we’ve run, other than the fact that we’ve had some problems our on-track performance has been better than it was last year,” said Reutimann in the postrace press conference.
Regarding the Chase, “We’ve still got some work cut out for us to get in the Chase, but we’re a lot closer than we were. That’s gonna be our goal, trying to get in the Chase.”
While it’s a goal that will be difficult to obtain, Reutimann has a week off to put that aside and soak in his most recent triumph in a race car. The Sprint Cup Series doesn’t hit the track again until two weeks from now at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
His critics can take some time off as well. David Reutimann proved he belongs in the Sprint Cup Series.
Scratch that. He proved he belongs in victory lane.