Charlotte Motor Speedway has been the site of two major milestones for David Reutimann – his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and his first Cup win.
Reutimann will add another first at CMS on May 22 when he makes his debut in the Sprint All-Star Race.
How excited is the fourth-year Cup driver to finally be entered in the prestigious exhibition event?
“I’m beyond excited,” said the 40-year-old Florida native. “That’s not an easy race to get into. You’ve got to do some things right in order to get in there. We’ve historically ran the (Sprint Showdown) qualifying race trying to get in the show and haven’t had too much luck doing that. We’ve actually run pretty well in those races, but when the money was up we were always sitting around watching on TV like everybody else. We were just watching at the race track."
“To go there and know that we’re going to be in the race and have to deal with the unique qualifying procedure and all the stuff like that going on there, I think we’re pretty excited for our whole team.”
Of the 18 drivers who have secured automatic berths in the $1 million-to-win affair, Reutimann is the only one with nary a single All-Star appearance on his resume. He nearly made the cut last year, finishing fourth in the Sprint Showdown out of which only the top two drivers advance to the main event.
It was what happened in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte nine days later, however, that Reutimann remembers best. With the race pushed back to Monday because of persistent rain, Reutimann and crew chief Rodney Childers took the lead by remaining on track when most of the frontrunners pitted as rain continued to plague the rescheduled proceedings.
The gamble paid off for Reutimann when the race never restarted, giving him his first Cup win and the first for Michael Waltrip Racing. It was also that victory, at Charlotte, that solidified his berth in the 2010 All-Star Race.
Already fond of CMS, Reutimann’s attachment to the 1.5-mile quad-oval grew even deeper with a trip to its victory lane.
“For my very first Cup race all I wanted to do was go there and make the race and then finish, and we were able to do those things so the race track in Charlotte there is a really cool race track,” said Reutimann, who made his Cup debut in a then one-race appearance with MWR in fall 2005. “It’s a special place for me and now even more so that we were actually able to win a race there.”
If Reutimann were to now go and add an All-Star win to his list of Charlotte firsts, he believes there would be an accompanying asterisk similar to the one often associated with his rain-shortened win.
The All-Star Race, while wildly popular among drivers and fans, doesn’t pay points or count toward the season championship.
“You have a situation where if you win that race, they’re going to say, ‘Well, when are you going to win a race that’s a point race?’ Reutimann said. “Even though you have a won a point race everybody wants to always point and say, ‘Well, it was a rain-shortened event.’ OK, fine, but if you go win this race then they’re going to say, ‘Well, yeah, but it wasn’t a point-paying race.’ I don’t know that in my situation you could win either way as far as the critics go, but it would be huge for me because in a Cup race you’ve got the best of the best, anyway, but these guys are going to drive really hard and not give you anything out there (in the All-Star Race).
“So I think to win a race with that kind of prestige, I don’t know that it’d bigger than the Coca-Cola 600 but, man, it would rank right up there, for sure, for me.”
While Reutimann has never been in the All-Star Race, he’s cognizant of the fireworks that typically ensue in an event all about pride, prestige and a winner's share of $1 million and change.
This year’s edition, just like 2009, consists of four segments broken into 100 laps. That means there’s not a lot of time to get to the front.
“There’s always give and take that you have out there,” Reutimann said. “Well, when this race comes up, it’s all take. There’s no give at all because you can’t; you can’t afford to. You have to go out there and go as hard as you can and you can’t afford to give anything up, so I think that’s why you see a lot of the excitement that you see from time to time. It’s just given the fact that, man, you’ve got to treat it like it’s a green-white-checker about the whole time.
“So that makes you really pay that much more attention to what’s going on, just knowing that you go out there and if you get underneath a guy or you get down in the corner and a guy gets a little bit underneath you, he’s probably not going to cut you a break where he normally would.”