Ask any athlete in any sport who the driving force is behind it all and they’ll tell you it's the fans.
Filling the stands, spending tons of money, and never letting their allegiance go unknown. The fans are the ones who get their voices heard and have the power to get changes made. Over the last year, nowhere is that more evident than in NASCAR, which has gone from the wing to the spoiler and to double-file restarts.
The fans, however, also make their cases known about drivers they like and don’t like. Those aren’t unfamiliar stories, either.
When David Reutimann won the Coca-Cola 600 last May after rain shortened the event, some fans ripped into the Michael Waltrip Racing driver. The thing about fans is that they are very specific with whom they see as successful and whom they view as a failure.
The same applies for how a driver finds his way to victory lane. If you happen to take advantage of the leader having a problem, you stole one. If you come from a lap down, you got help from NASCAR. If you win on fuel mileage, it’s not a legitimate win, and neither is a win shortened by rain.
Being a NASCAR driver is hard, and the pressure to dominate every race and earn the win is constantly bearing down. Reutimann felt that pressure and was relieved to get it off his shoulders in victory lane Saturday night.
“I heard so much stuff for winning a rain-shortened event. Everybody said we didn’t earn it,” he said. “Tonight, I don’t know what they could said about this one.”
This one was well earned. Reutimann ran in the top five for much of the LifeLock.com 400 and with 53 laps to go, ran down leader Jeff Gordon for the winning pass. He led the remaining 52 laps for his second career win.
The emotion on Reutimann’s face as well as crew chief Rodney Childers was quite evident. Childers, on the verge of tears when giving his TV interview, spoke to the media later that night and said, “It was a little emotional for me at Charlotte. Ever since then, I wanted to win one for him and do it right. It was a good night, a lot of fun.”
No one will know how much the win ate at the two men, but it goes to show how much fans expect from drivers. Besides wanting them to behave in a certain manner, i.e., the hatred toward Kyle Busch, a driver cannot dominate too much, i.e. the hatred toward Jimmie Johnson, nor can they win too little, i.e., Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
And let’s not forget all the arguments that winning a championship in the Chase isn't like winning one under the old points system. Therefore, they are not as important and don’t carry as much weight. The list could go on and on.
There will always be something to pick on, and for the last year it was Reutimann. A driver who has the respect of almost everyone in the garage, his win showed it when everyone who could find him congratulated him. He’s a driver who has worked his way to the top and has helped bring MWR to the forefront of contending teams.
It doesn’t matter what he had done or will do in the future, fans only care about victories. That’s how high the standards have become, and don’t think they don’t know how much their voice and power carries.
Reutimann was a Sprint Cup winner but wasn’t accepted as one, and, as such didn’t feel like one. That isn’t what sports, or NASCAR is about. Yes, winners are celebrated, however, they should be celebrated no matter how they won. A win is a win.
Reutimann, along with his team, though, were beaten down to ant size for doing their job. They happened to be ones to outsmart 12 other teams on a rainy day in Charlotte.
Ty Norris, the Executive Vice President of Business Development and General Manager of MWR, led to even further insight of what the 00 team was going through.
“One of the biggest things —I've been around for not as many years as most, but I've probably not seen anyone have to walk around for a year and a half and apologize about winning a race,” he said. “Winning that Coca-Cola 600 because of rain, everyone sort of like had the asterisk next to that win. Tonight was a huge statement.”
Apologize for a win?
That's an even bigger statement shown to NASCAR fans on Saturday. Their support matters…too much. For Reutimann, he wanted nothing more than to be thought of as a race car driver who had won a race, was contending for others, and deserved to be where he was.
Instead, the fans got the better of him, and things wouldn’t be right until he won another race. Not only that, but he needed to do it the way they wanted him to do it. The fans make sports go round and are a huge part in the success and enjoyment.
Except in the case of David Reutimann, when it comes to determining what constitutes a win, he may have shown that the fans have too much power.