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Sometimes even in NASCAR nice guys do finish first. This time it's Good Guy David Reutimann

   Let the party begin! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   JOLIET, Ill.
   As mean and ornery, and sometimes downright angry and maybe even a bit nasty, as these stock car drivers can be, particularly in this season of boys, have at it, to see runner-up Carl Edwards and third-place finisher Jeff Gordon make their way to victory lane to congratulate David Reutimann after Saturday night's victory here says a lot about how these guys all feel about Reutimann....one of the nice guys in a sport where nice guys, well, you know the deal.
    Yes, Reutimann did win the 600 at Charlotte two years ago, when crew chief Rodney Childers made the right call not to pit when rain threatened.
   But Reutimann concedes that win carried too much baggage with it: "I felt like there was a cloud over it, no pun intended. A dark cloud hanging over our head with that win at the 600. Everybody just says 'Yeah, you guys won, but...'"
   This time, though, there was no asterisk, no cloud. Reutimann flat kicked their butts.
   In the final miles, however, Reutimann was sweating it out, with Edwards on the charge. And Edwards is more than hungry himself.
   "Carl started gaining on us, but we kept pedaling, and thankfully he didn't have enough time to get to us," Reutimann said.
    "If there's anybody you don't want to see in your mirror on a green-white-checkered deal it's that car. Carl Edwards -- he'll put it up against the fence. The guy is pretty good.
     "Rodney was giving me lap times, and we'd stabilize. But then the last 10 laps we started getting freer and freer and freer, and I knew we needed to be careful with it and guard our position. I knew he was coming hard.
     "If we'd have had a yellow and get the tires a chance to cool down, we could have been good for a couple of laps. But anything can happen in that situation. I didn't want to find out."
    In a green-white-checkered, Reutimann would have faced not only Edwards but Gordon too.
   This was Gordon's 600th career start, and he's overdue for another tour win.
   What was Reutimann doing that day back in 1992 when Gordon made his Cup tour debut?
   "I was probably watching Jeff Gordon on television....and a lot of times it felt like that's as close as I was ever going to get to being a NASCAR driver," Reutimann said.
    To win this one Reutimann had to chase down Gordon and pass him, and then hold Edwards at bay.
    He got to Gordon, and that was some of the best action of the night, the two side by side. "We were a little bit faster, but Jeff was in the same area my car was better at, and he just wasn't going to move," Reutimann said.
    "My guys told me 'Stay on him. He'll make a mistake.'
    "Are you kidding me? He's Jeff Gordon. When is he going to make a mistake?
    "And I'm really worried right now because I'm making all kinds of them trying to get past him.
     "But his car got tighter and tighter, and when it snapped loose a couple times I just knew if we were patient....
     "My spotter kept me calm, keep working with me: 'Keep doing what you're doing, you're get past him.'
    "Once we cleared him, I felt we could get away from him.
     "It was awesome racing Jeff Gordon.
     "On top of that, he comes down to victory lane and congratulates me, as well as Carl Edwards. Those are the two guys I respect the most in the garage area, so that means a lot."
    For Edwards, "Second is bittersweet."
    However after the run of hard luck he's had this season, along with his teammates, this run looks like it might finally be the start of turning the corner.
    "Three more laps and we would have been right there," Edwards said of his chase to catch Reutimann.
    "You never really know...because it depends on how hard he is running. But I feel like with three more laps things would have gotten really interesting."
   And Reutimann conceded when Edwards is in your rear view and a win is on the line, you're never quite sure just what Edwards might decide to try. Remember that carom off the fourth turn wall at Kansas a few years back?
    Edwards himself seems downright relieved to at last be back in the game: "It is great to run up front. Guys are so nice and quiet up there....
    "And it is good to have a fast race car, and it felt good to focus on little things like my line and how I was driving the car, rather than how I was going to stay on the lead lap."
   The downer for Edwards was teammate Greg Biffle's blown engine: "That is what happens when you have brand new product," a disappointed Biffle said. "There is a little trial and error.
    "We don't have a lot of miles on these engines (Ford's new FR9s).
     "It seemed like we broke something in the valve train. That will hurt our chances in the chase.
    "We had a great car, and coming into tonight I was really excited about it. So this is really disappointing."
   "I am not sure what broke, or what the differences were in our engines," Edwards said. "Jack Roush did tell me Greg had a failure and we would have to think about what we are doing.
   "I have been taking for granted that our engines run so well and we won't have trouble. We can't have that kind of trouble if we are going to make the chase."
   The key to Edwards' apparent turnaround may have been advice from teammate Kasey Kahne, who has had the strongest Fords this season.
   "Kasey is a hell of a guy -- a very good driver...and (crew chief) Kenny Francis is very good at what he does," Edwards said. "That team has been helping us, and this week they helped us quite a bit, and it paid off.
     "Right up until the driver intros I was talking to Kasey about his car. He is a very even-keeled guy who has given me a lot of help.
     "The parts and help from Kenny Francis are probably what made the difference for us tonight."
     Of course everything from this race may need second thought, Edwards pointed out, because with seven races left till the playoff cut, rivals are almost certainly doing some experimenting, perhaps why they seemed off their game Saturday.
   Kurt Busch was one of the notables not on his game. After finishing a distant 26th, he was scratching his head, "since we've been so strong on the 1-1/2-mile tracks.  We just missed it. 
    "We were tight, loose....there was so much drag in the car it was just slow. 
     "I told (crew chief) Steve (Addington) we need to put this car on the chassis dyno and back in the wind tunnel to figure out what went wrong. 
     "It's just strange."
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     A lot of NASCAR's big names took it on the chin Saturday night in Chicago. Here Jimmie Johnson's day goes sour. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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