INDIANAPOLIS – David Reutimann pledged he'd keep showing up to the shop at Michael Waltrip Racing like he always has, even if a potential lack of sponsorship money meant the only thing he'd be driving was a tractor to cut the grass.
A timely victory for one of NASCAR's most affable drivers means Reutimann can keep the John Deere in the garage for awhile.
Reutimann and MWR have agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in the No. 00 Toyota through the 2012 season, giving the 40-year-old something he's lacked during his Cup career: job security.
Though the deal — which includes having Aaron's Inc. as the title sponsor for 30 races in both 2011 and 2012 — gives Reutimann peace of mind, don't expect him to change.
"I don't have but one speed, and that's to go as hard as I can all the time," he said.
Even if Reutimann admits his car has struggled at times keeping up with the pack.
Those days, however, appear to be over. Reutimann picked up the second win of his career at Chicago two weeks ago and is 15th in the points standings heading into Sunday's race at Indianapolis.
MWR general manager Ty Norris pledged after the win in Chicago to find a way to keep Reutimann on board. A handshake deal was reached, and Reutimann didn't worry as the details were resolved.
Besides, Reutimann knows nothing is guaranteed if he doesn't perform.
"Just because you have a contract does not mean you can just cruise," he said. "I think that's a common misconception that once you sign on, you're good for a couple of years and you can just not do your job as well as you're supposed to."
Taking it easy has never been part of the bargain for Reutimann, who has spent his entire career constantly worrying if he'll have a ride the following season.
Reutimann began driving for MWR during its infancy and has never taken his spot for granted. Mostly because it never has been. He's worked on a year-to-year basis since he started driving for MWR in the Cup series, staying patient as the upstart team went through growing pains.
"He has a talent level that's way up there," former Cup champion Dale Jarrett said. "He's a very smart driver. He's a very determined driver."
That determination is finally paying off.
Reutimann collected his first victory in the rain-shortened 600-mile race at Charlotte last year, a triumph he admitted was equal parts hard work and luck. He didn't need any help from the weather in Chicago two weeks ago, pulling away from Jeff Gordon to stamp himself as a legitimate contender to make NASCAR's playoffs for the first time.
It's the next step in a long steady climb that began racing on dirt tracks in Florida as a kid. In a sport enamored with grooming young drivers barely out of high school for stardom, Reutimann's 20-year rise through the ranks is a testament to his doggedness.
"It's been a rough journey," he said. "There's been tons of sacrifices by a lot of people on all different sides."