David Reutimann pulled the upset of the year in Sprint Cup.
With just one career Cup victory to his credit, Reutimann isn’t exactly a household name in NASCAR. Add in career finishes of 43rd, 14th, and 12th at Chicagoland with zero laps led, and it’s safe to say LeBron was a bigger favorite to win Saturday night’s race.
But perhaps the fourth-year driver will earn more respect after beating a pair of four-time champs. After Johnson took himself out of contention — we’ll get to that in a minute — Reutimann had to pass one of the best in the business, Jeff Gordon, to take control of the race. The two went at it tooth-and-nail for about 15 laps, running side-by-side in one of the best intermediate track battles we’ve seen this season.
“Stay on him, he’ll make a mistake,” was crew chief Rodney Childers’ advice over the radio, trying to reassure his pessimistic driver.
Too bad Reutimann didn’t buy it for a second.
“Are you kidding me?” he said after the race. “He’s Jeff Gordon. When is he going to make a mistake?”
But even legends push their luck someone else’s way a time or two. Eventually, the No. 24 got loose enough for the No. 00 to squeeze on through, and that was all she wrote as Michael Waltrip Racing’s top driver went virtually unchallenged the rest of the way. It completes an amazing turnaround for a guy that started the year with three blown engines in eight races, running no better than fifth while leading only 12 laps in the season’s first half. Critics openly questioned whether Reutimann’s lone win — at the Coke 600 last year in a rain-shortened victory — would leave him as one of NASCAR’s one-hit wonders.
“I know from just speaking with him, he has said that there was an asterisk next to that win,” said Carl Edwards, one of several drivers to personally congratulate the well-respected Reutimann. “I know this is really special for him. I know for me personally, my first win was a really big deal, but my second win felt like it kind of galvanized me and my team and put a stamp on the fact we belonged in Victory Lane.”
Can it do the same for Reutimann, who’s now in position to pull off a second shocking upset? All of a sudden, he’s within 96 points of 12th-place Clint Bowyer and fighting his way back into Chase contention.
“We may fly under the radar,” he said. “But the people that matter know we can contend.”
And now everyone else does, too.