CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Michael Waltrip defended driver David Reutimann on Monday for intentionally wrecking championship contender Kyle Busch.
But the owner of Michael Waltrip Racing found himself walking the fine line of supporting his employee while trying not to alienate one of his team's most important partners. Both Reutimann and Busch drive Toyotas, and Sunday's incident at Kansas Speedway hampered the manufacturer's chance of winning its first Sprint Cup title.
"I stand behind David because his record of sportsmanship is flawless," Waltrip said in a statement. "It is the duty of MWR's drivers to deliver for Toyota and our other partners, and I expect them to be treated fairly while doing so."
Reutimann was spun by Busch early in Sunday's race in contact for which Busch took responsibility but called accidental. About 100 laps later, when Busch was running seventh, Reutimann seemed to retaliate by intentionally slamming his car into Busch's door. The contact caused Busch to bounce off the wall.
The damage caused Busch to finish 21st, and he dropped from third to seventh in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings.
Reutimann was unapologetic after the race.
"I don't care if you're in the Chase or not," he said. "You need to think about who you're running over when you're running over them."
Waltrip said Monday that there is no difference on-track between the 12 title contenders and the 31 drivers not eligible for the championship.
"There are 43 drivers on the race track each Sunday, and there is no delineation between Chase participants and non-Chase participants when it comes to respect," he said. "Everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing is working hard to deliver great results to our owners, employees and sponsors. All organizations have a lot at stake each week as we are all measured by our performance and finishing position.
"When David Reutimann's chance to compete for a win at Kansas was taken away, it set off a series of events that have been well documented."
The incident couldn't have pleased Toyota.
The automaker is seeking its first championship at NASCAR's highest level, and Busch and Denny Hamlin are the only two Toyota representatives in the 12-driver Chase. Hamlin is currently second in the standings, eight points behind Jimmie Johnson, while Busch is 80 points out.
Reutimann has struggled the past month when good runs were spoiled by other drivers in three of the last four races.
He was running in the top six early at Richmond when contact with Kurt Busch caused him to spin. He was running 14th two weeks ago at Dover when Ryan Newman wrecked him, and he was wrecked by Kyle Busch on Sunday.
It was apparently the final straw.
Dave Rogers, the crew chief for Kyle Busch, told his driver over the radio that crew chief Rodney Childers had ordered Reutimann to stand up for himself and wreck Busch. Reutimann did not comment on what Childers said to him and sidestepped answering if he intentionally wrecked Busch.
"What do you think?" he said. "It just got tight."
Reutimann made it clear he doesn't care for Kyle Busch in August after Busch said Reutimann didn't know the proper way to drive around Bristol. The comments came after Busch beat Reutimann, who overcame a nasty bout with food poisoning to finish second.
"It all comes down to we don't like each other very much," Reutimann said in response to Busch's comments. "We agree that we don't like each other, and we're fine with it. We're pretty honest about it. I'm good with it."