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Reutimann! Hey, now if this guy can just break through with a win.....


David Reutimann: on the pole for Sunday's Texas Samsung 500 (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   David Reutimann is one of the guys you just really want to see succeed.
   And it looks like he will.
   The second-generation racer is finally starting to come into his own, in his third full season on the tour.
   "People may not remember how not so long ago we were just struggling to make these races," the 39-year-old racer said Friday after beating Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth to win the pole for Sunday's Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
   The highly personable racer from Florida has been 'the franchise' at Michael Waltrip racing, given Waltrip's own struggles as owner-driver. And Reutimann, though he has led only one lap this season, has been consistent enough in finishing (28th at Daytona, 14th at California, fourth at Las Vegas, 32nd at Atlanta, 12th at Bristol, and 20th at Martinsville) to be one of the sport's top-12 at the moment.
    "This team has only been around for three years now, and people may not realize just how tough this business is," Reutimann said.
   "All those dreams I carry around in my head – and it's my head, so I can win up there, if I want to – are getting closer. I'm sure it will be very emotional when I win….and I hope it hurries up and happens.
   "I've worked pretty hard to get to this point. And I don't feel like anybody's given me anything."
   One of the running jokes around the Waltrip shop is that Reutimann has been dubbed "the franchise."
   And Reutimann, a playful sort himself, has been having fun with that.
   "But I'm not the face of Michael Waltrip Racing. That's Michael. He's just the guy who gave me a break. When I got here, most people couldn't even spell my name.
   "I'm just a guy trying to play."

David Reutimann: Toyota's next new star? But can he handle Kyle Busch? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Reutimann's dad, Buzzy, is a well-known short-track racer, "and he's won more races than I've even seen," Reutimann said. "He just won last weekend. And he told me here if I didn't win this pole it would be because I wasn't on the gas enough in turns one and two. Hey, he's never even set foot on this track and he's telling me how to drive?
  "But, hey, he's Buzzy Reutimann and he just 'knows.'"
   And Reutimann laughed.
   While Gordon and Kenseth and others have complained about the wind here this week, and it has been quite gusty, Reutimann says he hasn't had time even to pay attention to that.
   With NASCAR's usual suspects getting perhaps too familiar in the headlines, Reutimann offers a refreshing change. And few things could be better for this sport at the moment than a Reutimann win on Sunday.
   Now that's unlikely….but his career best, a fourth, came just a few weeks ago at Las Vegas, a similar track, and very fast too.

Highly touted Joey Logano (R), off to a slow start his rookie season, may finally be picking up steam. He qualified 10th for Sunday's 500 in Greg Zipadelli's Toyota(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Reutimann's secret?
   "Don't enjoy it too much, or get too comfortable…because there's always the chance that somebody will come along who's better and faster.
   "Sometimes you just want to sit around for a moment and just enjoy it all, because this is so hard. But I can't let myself do that.
   "It's so important that, when you get to a track, and you unload, your car is pretty close, because it's so hard to catch up. We've had that at most of the races this year, so I'm grateful for that."
   But just what are Reutimann and crew chief Rodney Childers doing right all of a sudden, or so it seems?
   "Oddly enough, I really don't know what we're doing," Reutimann says.
   "I know we're doing a bunch of different things right. 
    "I think it's a bunch of small things that we're doing right. 
    "Rodney is making good calls on the pit box, we're unloading and the cars are good.  We're very close off the trailer… and our cars are better overall.
    "We have a lot of the pieces of the puzzle in place. 
    "When we get to the track we are much closer than we had been.
    "In the past we've showed up sometimes, and you're slinging springs and shocks and everything you can at it, just thrashing on the thing, and you never seem to get it.
    "As competitive as this deal is, and as little time as you have -- especially with no testing -- unloading pretty good when you start is one of the biggest things I've seen as a gain for us."

Well, maybe Jeff Gordon is finally ready to beat that Texas jinx. He will start on the front row Sunday (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


The trials and tribulations of Michael Waltrip's whole operation, as a startup, have been detailed ad nauseum.
   There may still be questions about a lot of things over there, though the operation does seem to be settling down into a better, more confident rhythm.
     But there is the nagging sense that maybe the operation hasn't been quite as good as Reutimann himself has become.
   It's a tough question, yes, but has the Waltrip operation held Reutimann back?
  "I don't think anybody is letting me down," Reutimann insists. "We have very, very good stuff.
   "It's just taken a while for the stuff to come together. 
   "We're still a very young team, as far as Cup teams go.
    "Toyota is doing a good job; we've had some hiccups on the motor side, and some other things, but we've been getting good horsepower. 
   "And I'm really encouraged with what I'm seeing with our cars.
   "There's no comparison:  It's just a much better piece now.  Anybody from the outside looking in can look at the quality and see the workmanship is much better….because now we're concentrating on making the cars faster, as opposed to just trying to get to the race track, which is what we were doing in the past.
    "We're a good team, and I feel our team is continually getting better. I see my team evolving and getting better on a weekly basis. 
   "We're not stagnant. I'm seeing a lot of cool stuff. And I love my guys around me.
    "I don't think it's a question about my equipment letting me down -- sometimes things just don't come together. 
    "If we can hit it all at the same time, when we need to, then we can run well. That's what we're seeing this year."

"Pull!" One of the coolest pole trophies in NASCAR is this Beretta shotgun (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)



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