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Monday, May 25, 2009
Nice guy Reutimann finally finishes first

By Ed Hinton
ESPN.com

We gotta get out of this place
If it's the last thing we ever do

-- The Animals

CONCORD, N.C. -- David Reutimann and his car owner, Michael Waltrip, might have been the only two people who weren't miserable leaving Lowe's Motor Speedway Monday evening.

Reutimann's first Cup win was the most serendipitous at this level since Dave Marcis stayed out under caution in the rain at Richmond, Va., in 1982.

For the final two hours of the 24 Hours of Cabarrus County -- aka the Coca-Cola 600 -- Reutimann found himself flukishly sitting at the front of the field on the pit road.

He waited in the rain until NASCAR finally put the event out of its misery at 6:25 p.m., after only 227 of a scheduled 400 laps, 24 hours and 40 minutes after the race had originally been scheduled to start Sunday.

It had been both the shortest (in distance) and the longest (in time) 600 of all 50 runnings.

"It certainly wasn't the prettiest win, but somebody has to win it," Reutimann said moments after the race was called.

"When you envision your first Sprint Cup win, you envision something a little different," he admitted. "We got this one today, and hopefully next time we'll earn it."

Reutimann slipped up front by staying out while the leaders pitted under what turned out to be the final yellow flag, which turned into the fourth and final red flag of Monday.

Before that last caution, Kyle Busch was in the lead and Reutimann was 14th. Busch had dominated, leading 173 laps -- all but 54.

Reutimann had smacked the wall earlier, and had begun pitting out of sequence, and the rain fell just right for him. He led only five laps, all of them under caution at 55 mph.

The win was also the first for Waltrip as a car owner at the Cup level.

"What a great, great call," Waltrip said of the decision by Reutimann's crew chief Rodney Childers to stay out under the last caution.

Michael Waltrip & David Reutimann
Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann were having a grand old time waiting for Reutimann to be crowned the winner Monday.

"And you've got to be proud of the result," Waltrip said, "because these things are really hard to win. David and I both have been in position to win races before, and had fate take them away from us.

"So I like to think of this as payback."

As for Childers' race-winning call, "I didn't even put much thought into it, to be honest with you," the crew chief said.

"Rodney told me, 'We're either gonna get us a win, or I'm gonna lose us about 10 spots here. It's a gamble,'" Reutimann said.

Busch said he didn't have the stay-out option when the final yellow came.

"We knew it [the rain] was coming, we knew it was here, but we weren't going to be able to ride around under caution for more than five laps," Busch said. "That was all we had of fuel left. We had to come down and put gas in it."

Busch wound up seventh, and Kasey Kahne, who'd been emerging as his strongest competition under green conditions, was eighth.

Ryan Newman ended up second, and Robby Gordon third.

In making his call, Childers figured that, considering adjustments they'd need to make if they pitted, they were going to lose at least four spots, back to 18th, anyway. So the gamble between winning and falling back to 24th was mathematically sound.

"So we stayed out," Childers said, "and then it sounded like it was never gonna end, standing on the pit road."

That's the way it felt to the few thousand fans who remained from the steady exodus that had begun Sunday night and continued through Monday afternoon.

The good thing about most 24-hour races is that sports cars run through rain and fog. The field here spent Vingt-Quatre Heures de Cabarrus mostly sitting on the pit road or in the garages.

There were but 187 laps of green-flag racing, and Busch led 173 of those, and that tells you about all you need to know about the on-track action in a race that consumed two of the three days of Memorial Day weekend.

During those last two hours, as Reutimann and Childress paced pit road, sometimes joined by Waltrip, "I said, 'I've been in situations before, and it's like this kind of deal never goes my way,'" Reutimann said. "'I don't see why it should now.'"

An hour after Vingt-Quatre Heures was over, and the win had begun to sink in, Reutimann said, "Things like this just never happen to guys like me."

Actually, things like this just never happen in NASCAR, period. At least they hadn't until now.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.