Thursday, October 23, 2008
Reutimann wants repeat; Davis wants to make first start
By Mark Ashenfelter ESPN.com
When the Nationwide Series last left Memphis Motorsports Park, mangled cars were being loaded onto transporters for the trip home -- one that might have felt shorter than the race itself.
With 25 cautions, it was a race easy to remember, even if it's one all but winner David Reutimann and a few others would rather forget. With just four races left this season, time is running short for Reutimann to return to Victory Lane and this week might well represent his best chance as the only full-time Sprint Cup Series drivers in the field are the four running the entire Nationwide schedule.
Reutimann survived the carnage at the .75-mile facility a year ago and he'd like to do so again in Saturday's Kroger On Track For The Cure 250 (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic and ESPN360)
to highlight a season that's fallen short of expectations. After finishing a distant second to champion Carl Edwards a year ago, Reutimann hoped his Michael Waltrip Racing team would be a title contender, but that simply hasn't happened.
Last year, though, remains a special memory.
"I don't know if there has ever been that many yellows in a race, there were a lot of them," Reutimann said. "Memphis is a pretty challenging racetrack and sometimes it is challenging to pass.
"It doesn't take much to turn a guy around. It was one of those deals where it is good for Michael Waltrip Racing because we were able to give them their first win on the racetrack in a few years. I was so proud of my guys."
While Reutimann -- whose car will be practiced and qualified by Josh Wise while Reutimann focuses on his Cup car in Atlanta -- hopes for a repeat performance, Marc Davis will simply be looking to qualify for his series debut. A development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, Davis will be the second African-American driver to debut at Memphis in as many years. Last season, Chase Austin debuted with Rusty Wallace Racing and had plans to run for the team again this year.
Sponsorship issues precluded that from happening, though, and Austin is currently looking for a ride for next year. Davis finished fifth in the Camping World East Series, a finish that didn't leave him satisfied, even if the competition level had improved during his two years in the series.
"The whole Camping World Series has definitely changed from what it used to be, and even between the last two years, definitely the competition level has gotten a lot better between last year and this year," Davis said. "There's a lot more Cup-affiliated teams in the series and a lot more development drivers.
"So it's definitely a good series to step up to and get out with the stock cars and having the spec motor, it's definitely a good motor and really reliable. So [you] go out there and we get to run on some of the big tracks; ran good at Phoenix and Loudon and Iowa and Dover, as well. It's definitely a good developmental series and [I'm] looking forward to some more drivers coming out of it."
Davis realizes that what he learned at that level will help only so much when he gets behind the wheel of a Nationwide Series car.
"The big thing is probably just going to be getting used to the longer races," Davis said. "We have run some longer races in the past and just [have to] try and get the whole strategy deal worked out. And there's more pit strategy involved in the Nationwide races and the Cup races than there [is] in the [Craftsman] Truck Series or Camping World Series like I'm used to. That's going to be a learning curve, but I'm on a good team so I'm looking forward to it."
Davis won't be the only new face at Memphis as Jarit Johnson -- brother of Sprint Cup Series points leader Jimmie Johnson -- will be in the No. 22 Fitz Motorsports Dodge. With that team locked inside the top 30 in owner's points, Johnson's guaranteed a spot in the field.
While Clint Bowyer has a comfortable 196-point lead over Carl Edwards in the race for the championship, Bowyer's focus will also be on trying to win Richard Childress Racing the owner's title for the third straight year.
With Joey Logano -- who will also attempt to make the Cup race in Atlanta -- struggling of late in the Nationwide Series, the No. 20 team of Joe Gibbs Racing finds itself one point behind Bowyer's No. 2 Chevrolet.
If Bowyer can make it through this race unscathed, he might have a clear shot to the title. Given that he's finished first, second and fourth in his three starts there, he might just do so in style.
"I am going to miss the short tracks. I enjoy that type of racing," Bowyer said. "It's tight racing. You're rooting and gouging. It's just as good as racing gets. It's fun and challenging and everything else that goes along with short-track racing
"These big, wide-open race tracks are challenging in their own way, but to me, it's not fun unless you're door-to-door and trying to stay off the guy on the outside of you or trying to give him room on the inside. That's what racing is all about to me. Making a mistake and having to pay for it or watching another guy make a mistake.
"You just don't run a short track 100 percent perfect like you can on a mile-and-a-half. You make mistakes. You might charge the corner too hard. You might slip up and get into a lapped car a little bit. The guy who makes the fewest mistakes usually wins. It's a lot of fun to race on tight racetracks like Memphis."
Especially when you can largely miss the wrecks, as both Reutimann and Bowyer did a year ago.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.