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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

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NASCAR Season Preview: Dave Blaney

Photo credit: Kim Phillips (CC)

#36 Accell Construction Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing

Born: October 24, 1962

Home: Hartford, Ohio

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: With a third place finish at Talladega in October, Blaney scored the fourth top five finish of his Sprint Cup career, as he helped Tommy Baldwin Racing to put its #36 car solidly in the top 35 in owners’ points for 2012. The team only start and parked once, in the second race of the season at Phoenix. Blaney finished 32nd in points, respectable given the quality of the team.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Blaney failed to qualify at Watkins Glen, ending his quest for his first full season since 2006. He also ran the Atlanta race for Germain Racing in a start and park ride after developing kidney stones, and was bounced from Baldwin’s primary car to its secondary #35 multiple times in order to guarantee starts for other drivers.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Blaney’s hard work putting Tommy Baldwin’s #36 car in the top 35 in owners’ points in 2011 will be put to good use in 2012. Unfortunately for Blaney and crew chief Phillipe Lopez, they won’t be the beneficiaries; thanks to an alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing, Danica Patrick and David Reutimann will benefit from those points, while Blaney will use the owners’ points from last year’s #35 car, which attempted only six races in 2011.

That means that Blaney will be relied on to qualify for races on speed to start the season. While that wasn’t an issue in the last three races of 2011, when he drove the #35 car to allow Geoffrey Bodine and his sponsors guaranteed track time, he may have a hard time getting into the Daytona 500, at the very least. Blaney will be a consistent top 35 driver if he’s in the races, as he always has been, but there’s a good chance that he’ll miss at least one event for the sixth season in a row.

– Chris Leone

NASCAR Season Preview: David Reutimann

Photo credit: John Trainor (CC-GEN)

#10 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing

Born: March 2, 1970

Home: Zephyrhills, Florida

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: While team owner Michael Waltrip failed to make his hometown Kentucky race when qualifying was rained out, Reutimann nearly gave his owner the best consolation prize possible, leading as late as lap 256 (of 267) and finishing second in the event. He also finished ninth in the Coca-Cola 600, a race he won in 2009.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: After two consecutive winning, top-20 seasons, Reutimann took a major step back in 2011, finishing a dismal 28th in points after failing to win any races and only scoring three top-10s. The longtime Waltrip family driver had a contract to return to the Aaron’s Dream Machine for 2012, only to be notified of his dismissal in November.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Reutimann’s drop off in 2011 led to the end of a long-term relationship with Michael Waltrip Racing and sponsor Aaron’s, a disappointment exacerbated by how late it came in the silly season. In response, Reutimann had to scramble to put a ride together, eventually signing with Tommy Baldwin Racing to drive the #35 car for 26 races this season. The team had been expected to run about mid-pack until Baldwin struck an alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing to combine Reutimann’s schedule with that of Danica Patrick, who had been scheduled to run 10 races in the #10 Chevrolet.

Reutimann and Baldwin will now receive technical and pit crew support from Stewart-Haas, which includes the opportunity to work with Patrick’s crew chief Greg Zipadelli. While the team needs sponsorship for Reutimann’s races, and he’ll miss a lot of marquee events (including the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600), the good news is that the goal for this team in 2012 is to stay in the top 35 in owners’ points so that Patrick has a qualifying crutch for her first full-time Sprint Cup season in 2013. And while this team most likely won’t win any races in 2012, it provides Reutimann an opportunity to refocus, impress some owners, and perhaps sign a better deal for 2013.

– Chris Leone