David Reutimann took the blame for not pulling into the pits at the end of Sunday’s race at the Martinsville Speedway and affecting the finish. But there was a bigger reason he tried to limp his car to the finish line – Danica Patrick.
Reutimann was driving the No. 10 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin. The car had several problems at the end of the race, including a broke piece in the steering and a bad engine. The car eventually stopped at the end of the front straightaway, prompting a green-white-finish.
The top three cars – Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer – all crashed in the mad dash to the first turn. That allowed Ryan Newman to go from fifth to the Victory Lane and A.J. Allmendinger from ninth to runner-up.
Reutimann said he was trying to nurse the car home to keep it ranked among the top 35 in car owner points. Why was that important? It’s the same car Patrick drives in a limited Sprint Cup Series schedule.
By finishing 35th in the race, Reutimann – and Patrick – dropped to 36th in the rankings. That means the car must qualify on speed for the starting lineup at the next race. And if it’s not in the top 35 by May 12, Patrick will have to race her way into the lineup at the always-treacherous Darlington Raceway.
Reutimann is scheduled to be in the car for the next four races, and he’s certain to have a lot of pressure to get the team back inside the top 35. More important, he will have to do it in a not-so-forgiving garage area.
“It was pretty much a disaster,” Reutimann said after the race. “We ended up getting right in the middle of a huge controversy. It’s nothing I needed, nothing the team needed and nothing I ever intended to happen.
“I wasn’t trying to mess up anyone’s day. My day was bad enough that I didn’t need to mess up anyone else’s.”
Reutimann rolled around the half-mile track at less than half-speed for several laps before his car finally crept to a stop. Many drivers, particularly Dale Earnhardt Jr., said he should have pulled off the track.
Earnhardt said any excuse offered by Reutimann was “laughable.”
Reutimann wouldn’t have been in such a mess if it wasn’t for the loopholes that allowed Baldwin and Stewart-Haas Racing combine to assume the points earned by Baldwin a year ago. Dave Blaney finished in the top 35 for Baldwin last season, but Baldwin decided to transfer those points over the Stewart-Haas for Patrick.
She got into the Daytona 500 with points earned by another driver. To make the Southern 500, she may need another driver – Reutimann – to pave the way.
It’s clear he feels the pressure.
“We needed to finish the next couple laps to try to stay in the top 35,” Reutimann said. “The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I hate it for everybody it affected.”
NASCAR demanded an explanation from Reutimann and Baldwin after the race. The car owner carried a broken tie rod to the NASCAR hauler; Reutimann brought a lot of humility. Apparently the sanctioning body was satisfied Reutimann didn’t stop on purpose. They also tried to understand why he stayed on the track to collect every possible point.
Whether Reutimann’s stall will continue to create havoc for others won’t be known for another month. With four races to get back into the top 35, Reutimann has a lot of time to redeem himself.
Barring any more breakdowns.