Reutimann Gets The Wrong Kind Of Break At Martinsville

Photo credit: Tommy Baldwin Racing (via Facebook)

David Reutimann has to be the unluckiest driver in the Sprint Cup garage these days. The poor guy just can’t seem to catch a break.

Remember where he was a couple of years ago? The Florida native was flying high, coming off of his first career win in the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 for Michael Waltrip Racing. He won again the next season, after chasing down and passing Jeff Gordon at Chicagoland, and Waltrip was so impressed that he gave Reutimann a juicy contract extension.

That’s when the wheels began to come off. Last season was a disaster for Reutimann and MWR, as he fell to 28th in points with only one top five finish and a wild DNF at Watkins Glen that say his car flip violently. When Mark Martin became available for a partial season, Reutimann was let go; the move came so late in the offseason that any good rides were already long gone.

Reutimann managed to piece together a full schedule between BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, but running for a pair of lower-tier teams does not a competitive season make. Reutimann crashed out at Daytona for BK, blew an engine at Phoenix with Baldwin, and finished the first five races of the schedule just barely holding onto a spot in the top 35 in Baldwin’s #10 car.

Forget the fact that Reutimann is trying to relaunch his career. If that car falls out of the top 35, then its other, higher-profile driver – Danica Patrick – may have to qualify for her first Sprint Cup races on speed. A once-secure future has deteriorated to racing from week to week, praying for just one swatch of good luck to replenish the frayed fabric of a career tattered by one bad season.

Then, as if on cue, Stallgate happened.

Photo credit: John Trainor (CC BY 2.0)

The incident saw Reutimann stop entering the first turn at Martinsville yesterday with only three laps to go. Understandably so: the resulting caution broke up an intense battle for the lead between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and the chaos on the resulting restart eliminated both from winning contention.

Many who watched the end of the race in disbelief criticized Reutimann heavily for the mistake. The motor had been skipping for the last few laps of the race, but Reutimann attempted keep driving around the track in an ill-fated attempt to gain one more position and remain in the top 35.

He failed on both accounts.

To his credit, Reutimann has been more than conciliatory in his explanation. He’s accepted every word of criticism thrown his way, from Clint Bowyer’s frustration (“That was ridiculous”) to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s confusion (“I don’t know what he was thinking, driving around there at 15 miles per hour”). He’s even accepted the harshest criticism of all, delivered by Brad Keselowski, who thinks that NASCAR should park him for a week.

In numerous interviews, the hurt and frustration has sliced through his apologies, as he explains away the broken part that failed and caused the motor to quit. He’s been almost inconsolable in adamantly telling anybody who will listen that he never would have stopped on the race track. More than once, the exasperated driver has pleaded with his critics to give him a break.

For the first time in a while, he got one on Sunday. Unfortunately, it was the wrong kind. And, if Keselowski gets his way, it may go from a mechanical break to a forced break of a different kind.

– Chris Leone