Good-guy Reutimann plays role of bad boy at Martinsville

The great actor Sam Waterston once commented, “I don’t think playing a villain is my greatest talent.” You have to believe David Reutimann knows exactly how that feel.

Around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) garage, Reutimann is known for his strong work ethic and affable disposition. The third-generation racer diligently worked his way through the racing ranks before finally earning a NSCS ride in 2007. He has a couple of Cup Series wins on his resume and, although not generally considered one of NASCAR’s elite competitors, he has made few enemies in the sport and is fairly popular with fans.

Almost anyone would be quick to tell you that David Reutimann is a good driver and a good guy. That’s why it seems particularly unfortunate his most famous seven days of racing – the week following the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 1 – turned out to be a black-hat kind of affair.

Reutimann is now widely known either as the guy who cost Rick Hendrick his 200th victory or the schmuck who let his ailing car stop dead on the track, setting into motion a chain of events that would ultimately result in a wreck that took both Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson out of the race and almost certainly cost Gordon the victory. Negatively affecting even one of those three guys can create a racing riot. Whacking them all at once may be one of the most astounding cases of bad luck we will see all season.

I prefer to think of Reutimann as the guy who was trying to do his job.

To say that David was having a bad day at Martinsville would be a gross understatement. He had trouble early in the race, but his Tommy Baldwin Racing team was eventually able to get the car back out on the track. Then, his left-front tire rode broke, and NASCAR showed him the black flag, which is the racing equivalent of “Young man, get in this house RIGHT NOW.”

With a little less than three laps remaining and a car that was literally dying on the track, he was faced with two choices – either stay in the race and acquire as many points as possible, or head to pit road and call it a day.

The problem with Option B was twofold. If he came in, he could fall out of the top 35 in owner points and would have to qualify the No. 10 TBR Chevy on speed for future races. But if the team went with Option A and he stayed out, the car might not be able to go the distance.

As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened; the car gave up the ghost and, like the begats in the Bible, one thing led to another. The caution flag flew, begatting a green/white/checkered restart for the finish, which begat the Gordon/Johnson wreck, which begat another caution and another green/white/checkered finish, which begat Ryan Newman in Victory Lane, a group of angry drivers, and a whole bunch of very vocal and disgruntled Hendrick fans nationwide.

Yep, we won’t be forgetting that one anytime soon.

“We just needed to limp around for a couple of more laps to try to stay in the top 35,” Reutimann said after that race. “I came off Turn 4 and they said, ‘NASCAR is going to post you,’ so I was like, ‘Let me just try to make one more lap.

“I know it sounds like a freakin’ excuse and a cop out, but c’mon man, I’m not just going to stop on the racetrack. The motor shut off. I was just trying to get to the end.”

We all know people who are very good at their jobs, but we dislike them anyway. The dentist comes to mind, along with anyone who works at the IRS. David Reutimann and Danica Patrick are sharing the No. 10 car this season; 10 races for her and the rest for him. It is critical for everyone involved, from the team and the sponsors to the fans who will buy tickets just to watch her race, that she doesn’t miss even a single one of those 10 events.

I am a huge Danica Patrick supporter and obviously she wasn’t personally involved in this situation, but I have to say that I consider Reutimann’s job – namely, to keep the car in the top 35 so Patrick won’t have to qualify it on speed at difficult places like Darlington and Bristol – to be about as thankless as it gets.

Think of it this way: He has to BE good so she can LOOK good. Talk about having to leave your ego at the door; ouch.

Reutimann managed to eke out a 35th-place finish in the race and left Martinsville a little worse for wear but sitting 32nd in the point standings. He was called to the NASCAR hauler after the race, and while you’ll probably never see anyone more dejected-looking as he was after that conversation, the sanctioning body determined no wrongdoing had taken place, and no punishment was handed out.

In other words, to paraphrase another one of our favorite celebrities, Will Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well … for now, at least.

NASCAR columnist Cathy Elliott is also the author of the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR.” Visit her online at www.mybrainonnascar.com.

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