David Reutimann knows it’s early, knows there are too many miles and too many twists and turns left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season to get too excited. That doesn’t mean he isn’t enjoying his success so far this season.

For a guy who has spent the majority of his Cup career either fighting to make races or to get his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota anywhere near the top of the grid, finding his name on the front page of the standings isn’t a bad thing.

Reutimann enters the series’ first bye week 12th in points even after a season-worst 32nd-place finish in Atlanta last Sunday. It’s rarified air for the affable 39-year-old, who has never finished better than 22nd in the season standings and is still looking for his first Cup victory.

“(There’s) a lot of racing left,” Reutimann said. “But I’ve seen my name listed on the outside of the top 35 before.”

He should. Reutimann is leading the way for Waltrip’s somewhat resurgent Toyota program. He’s already collected a 12th at Daytona, then backed it up with a seventh in California and a career-best fourth in Las Vegas.

The Florida native will spend the bye week hanging out with his family. It’ll be a good time. Yet after waiting so long for things to come together, Reutimann isn’t exactly thrilled about spending a Sunday outside of his No. 00 machine.

“You always have the danger, you think if things are going well (and) you have an off weekend, it’s going to mess up everything that you’ve got going on,” he said. “Obviously you want to be there every week, especially when things are going your way.”

Reutimann can’t quite put a finger on what has led to his hot start. In his mind, it’s been the continuation of something his team started last fall.

After struggling to find consistency for most of the 2008 season, Reutimann was among the better non-Chase drivers at the end of the year. He posted three top-10s in the last 12 races and won the pole in the season-ending event at Homestead.

The results were enough to keep the majority of his team intact during the offseason. While Rodney Childers, former crew chief for Elliot Sadler and Scott Riggs, was brought on board, the rest of the team remained the same.

“Basically our same core group of people are there, just with a new crew chief,” Reutimann said. “Everything’s kind of jelled rather quickly.”

Thanks to NASCAR’s ban on offseason testing, Reutimann didn’t really have a choice. Yet he saw the ban as a blessing of sorts. Rather than spend money hopping around from track to track, MWR had a little extra cash to put in places like engine development and equipment.

“I feel a lot of teams were testing and spending that money just because they felt like they had to because the other larger teams that had the budgets were doing that,” he said. “So I felt (the testing ban) gave us a chance to focus our energies on some different situations and have a little bit more focus on what we’re doing with our race cars … and different engineering things that we were trying to do.”

Whatever they experimented on, it’s working. Big tests remain, however, before Reutimann will call himself a contender.

The series heads to the bumper-car insanity of Bristol next week before hopping over to Martinsville. Reutimann readily admits his short-track program could use some work.

“I think our short track stuff, we have some work to do on that,” he said.

Yet he can do it without the nauseous feeling that used to come when he arrived at the track knowing he would have to qualify to make the race because he was outside the top 35 in owner points.

Though he no longer has that hanging over him, he has vivid memories of 2007 when he failed to make the field in eight events. Slamming the hauler door shut on Friday afternoon grew frustrating and led to some sleepless nights.

“Being outside the top 35, you’re sick to your stomach every time qualifying time rolls around,” he said. “You know you have to go out there and you basically have one lap to try and get into the race and it’s going to make or break your weekend. You unload and you’re just a nervous wreck from the time practice starts until the time you get into the race.”

When his weekends ended early, Reutimann admits he was a “miserable person to be around.” Though that may be putting it a bit too harshly for a driver considered among the nicest on the circuit.

“You doubt yourself sometimes,” he said. “You doubt what’s been going on around you. I’ve been through all that.”

Which is why Reutimann is nowhere close to getting ahead of himself. Too many drivers have seen decent starts come undone as the tempers and temperatures rise.

“I don’t think your mentality changes any,” he said. “I think you still try to be as careful as you possibly can and still make sure you have a car in a good enough situation at the end of the race.”

And hopefully this time for Reutimann, the end of the season too.


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