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Reutimann back in the race

He has become a smarter, more confident driver after a distressing start to trucks season.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 5, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS - David Reutimann was pretty sure the deal was about over.

Granted, even in good times, the self-deprecating Zephyrhills native has hopped out of his truck after a top-five finish and blamed "the idiot driver," that being himself, for not doing better.

But Reutimann's mood had swung well past dour and into sullen seven races into his second NASCAR truck series season. And this time, he had the stats to back it up. Four straight finishes of 21st or worse had left him 18th in points and a few more bad finishes from a complete freefall. Positive results were gone. Confidence completely gone and soon, he assumed, so would be his job despite another year remaining on his contract with Darrell Waltrip Motorsports.

Then came a 17th-place finish at Charlotte. Enough was enough. Reutimann, crew chief Jason Overstreet and the crew of his No. 17 Toyota, most of whom had helped him win rookie-of-the-year honors the season before, sat in the hauler long after the race. They talked about how much they needed to work, who needed to work harder and challenged each other to get it done.

But what was to be done about what Overstreet secretly considered their worst problem: bad luck?

"We were all frustrated," Reutimann said. "I was extremely bummed out and Jason's pretty much hard to tell if he's mad or if he's not. I think it came down to a point where, honestly, my confidence was at an all-time low. I had fear of self-confidence and Jason and those guys kind of picked me up, gathered me up and dusted me off and said, "You're our guy and this is what we're going to do.' That got my mind back in the game."

Seven races later, heading into tonight's event at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Reutimann is riding the most productive stretch of his career and seems in better position than ever to win his first NASCAR race. Since that May 20 Charlotte race, Reutimann has six top 10s and four top fives and finished third or better in his past three. Now he's seventh in points, within 290 of leader Dennis Setzer with 11 races remaining. Seventeenth at IRP last season, Reutimann will use the same truck tonight that finished second July 23 at Memphis.

"I don't know if we're doing anything different other than a lot of heavy prayer," said Reutimann, whose runnerup finish was the best of his career. "I don't know if I'm a believer in luck. We're just trying to concentrate on racing smarter."

That was his part in a complex, confounding situation, he said. One bad finish created the urgency to make up points the next race. That created more mistakes and the situation worsened.

"I think I got to the point where I was just trying to make things happen and really just doing the kinds of things that got me into trouble last year," he said. "You had to take a step back and race smarter, make the right decisions. If the truck is not as good as it needs to be, just wait and give Jason and those guys a chance to fix it, make it better. It's something I always have to remind myself of, because you constantly run so hard and want to win a race so bad, (but) you just can't do that."

Frustrations came quickly for Reutimann this season as the momentum of a season-ending pole and fourth-place finish at Homestead was snuffed with a last-lap crash and 12th-place finish in the season opener at Daytona.

"We definitely thought we would come out of the box good," Reutimann said. "I think what it comes down to is you know you're capable of running so much better and that's the thing that tends to aggravate you. I don't know if it was anything we changed. I definitely thought we would be better. If you told me it would have taken us to Dover (the eighth race of the season) to get our first top five, I would have told you you were crazy. There's no way. We're going to come out of the box, and we're going to be running good, and we're going to be winning races."

But there were enough mistakes that no member of the team could be absolved.

"It wasn't so bad until about the third race because we still ran well," said Overstreet, who is from Clearwater. "At Daytona, we were running third or fourth and got crashed at the white flag. California, we unloaded real fast there but didn't race so smart, should have had a top 10. Atlanta, we should have had a top 10 but had a loose lug nut, so it's not like we weren't performing, but we were only performing for parts."

A fifth-place finish at Dover, the race after Charlotte, was enough to restart a season. Overstreet did his part by making a risky pit call late in the race, having Reutimann stay out under a late caution to lead. Though he was passed on a restart by drivers with fresh tires, the team sensed progress after finally being competitive again.

"I got pumped up, I felt excited," Reutimann said, "started giving information and the confidence was starting to come back for both of us."

[Last modified August 5, 2005, 01:08:13]

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