The driver of the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine scored a season-best second-place last week at Kentucky Speedway, then qualified his Toyota third for Sunday’s Lenox 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
For Reutimann, who is currently 24th in the point standings, it’s all about moving forward.
“This sport changes every week,” Reutimann said. “We seem to have been behind on things. We knew we were behind, but you just don’t make changes overnight. Between the help of Toyota and their engineering staff, Toyota Racing Development, all the guys at Michael Waltrip Racing, guys being in the wind tunnel, working their guts out, finally got us a car. We’re closer to what we needed.
“Not that we’ve had bad cars in the past — the guys you’re running against, their cars constantly evolving, changing things — we’re trying to catch up sometimes. Everybody at MWR is doing a really good job.”
Despite three engine failures in the early part of 2010, Reutimann was 17th in the standings after 18 races last year. He had three top fives and earned his second career Cup race the following week at Chicagoland.
But this year has been a struggle for Reutimann. His first top five was last week in Kentucky, where he led seven of the eight total laps he’s spent at the point this year. Before last weekend, he had just one top 10 finish, a ninth at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600.
Although Reutimann’s been running at the finish of every race this season, his average showing of 20.611 is reflective of the incidents he’s been caught up in along the way.
Reutimann’s crew chief Rodney Childers is optimistic given the assistance the No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing team has received.
“We’ve had pretty good cars this year,” Childers said. “We just tore up a lot of stuff. All in all, we’ve been bringing better cars to the track, truthfully. We’ve gained a lot on the aero side. We’ve done a lot of testing and come up with new set-ups and really changed a lot of stuff from what we were doing. Thankfully, we do get some information from TRD and folks like that so we can compare wind tunnel stuff with Red Bull and Joe Gibbs. All those guys have been a big help.
"We were off a good bit. We just got behind. I would say on the aero side that we’ve probably made bigger gains in the garage than anyone else this year. That’s really going to pay off on the intermediate tracks. I just wish we could have found it sooner and got on with it earlier in the season."
Reutimann, who worked as a fabricator before driving full-time, says with as close as the cars have become from a competitive standpoint, teams have to rely on small gains to complete the total package.
“You can’t gain one big thing,” Reutimann said. “You try to do things that eventually help the car. That’s what we’ve done. It’s certainly not a different breed of a car than what we’ve had. It’s a lot of subtle stuff that seemed to make a difference. Better numbers in the wind tunnels.
“They say you have common templates, everybody’s car is the same. Well, they are not. You have to work harder to get gains, and that’s what our guys have been doing.”
And the results paid off in Kentucky and for qualifying at New Hampshire, where Reutimann remained on the provisional pole through 11 drivers, before Ryan Newman and then Tony Stewart knocked him off the front row. Still, Reutimann feels the No. 00 team is “finally running like we’re supposed to.”
“I don’t know if you call it a roll, but it’s certainly been better than it has been,” Reutimann said. “Just because you qualify upfront, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay there. But it certainly does get your weekend off to a good start, just all due to the improvements we made on our cars and things we were missing and felt like some areas we were struggling in as far as our cars were performing.
“Hopefully, starting to close the gap a little bit. Last week was the first time we’ve run our new generation-type car, and that was a big improvement over what we’ve had. It’s just qualifying here, but we’ll see how it stacks up in race trim before we know if there is any kind of roll or not.”
Childers shares Reutimann’s cautious optimism. The team is still 46 points outside of the top 20. Even with a win it would be a tough road to the Chase.
“We have a good starting position for tomorrow and the car is pretty good,” Childers said. “It could always be better, but it’s been one of the best cars we’ve had here — and we’ve always been pretty competitive. Hopefully, we can hang in there.
“We just want to win a race or two. Whether we can make the Chase or not, that’s hard. We’re way back in the points for tearing up a bunch of stuff at the beginning of the year — just like the 31 (Jeff Burton) and a bunch of other guys. If we can just keep the momentum going, and when a couple of races when it gets close to the Chase, some guys get a little conservative and some guys don’t. We’ll just be the guys that lay it all on the line and go for wins.”
Kyle Busch became the third driver in NASCAR history to score 100 wins within the top three tours with his win in the New England 200 on Saturday.
The 26-year-old’s win was his 49th in the Nationwide Series and tied him with Mark Martin for all-time wins in that division.
Busch humbly acknowledged that his milestone "is a little bit different." He still has a ways to go to reach 100 Sprint Cup wins — to join the revered company of Hall of Famers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). But with 22 Cup wins, 49 Nationwide victories and 29 in the Truck Series, he’s set the bar high for future generations.
“Certainly feels good and means a lot,” Busch said. “Especially to come out here and win for the Z-Line Designs and get the 49th win in their car … the fans and Mark Martin — to tie his 49 wins, that’s something that’s pretty awesome as well, and it’s a great opportunity to race in this series and win that many.
“And now to do it, it’s pretty neat.”
DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION?
Kevin Harvick questioned whether there’s really a “boys have at it” sentiment in NASCAR when he’s not allowed to race Kyle Busch with the vigor he’s accustomed to.
While Harvick made reference in the Nationwide race as to why he backed off from pushing it against the No. 18 Toyota, he clarified his banter following the race.
“I was told a few weeks ago that if we touched the No. 18 car we would be parked. So, I just have to be really careful,” Harvick said.
“I have to be really careful with the way NASCAR put it to me. It would be easier to win if you didn’t have handcuffs put on you, but that’s the way NASCAR said we had to do it.”
Busch said in his post-race that he didn’t receive a similar warning from the sanctioning body.
Mark Martin on Kyle Busch matching his record of 49 wins in the Nationwide Series: “Everyone forgets he’s just 26 years old. There’s a lot more out there for him.”