NASCAR: Round 19 – Lifelock.com, Chicagoland Speedway – July 10

David Reutimann has won a Sprint Cup race before – in Charlotte, a little over a year ago – but the achievement was somewhat lessened by being a tactical victory in a rain-shortened race and not a “proper” win. He’s dearly wanted that stamp of legitimacy, a resounding win that no one could possibly deny or cast aspersions on – and this week at Chicagoland, one of Nascar’s most popular drivers got his dream.

Early on it looked as though this was going to be another Jimmie Johnson march of victory, as he took the lead from polesitter Jamie McMurray and settled into the top spot for the long haul. You’d be forgiven for thinking he could be a little distracted given that his wife had given birth to the couple’s first child midweek, but Johnson looked as focussed and unflappable as ever, leading through the first caution (for David Stremme hitting the wall on lap 39) and ensuring yellow flag pit stops, all the way through to lap 96. But that’s when things started going uncharacteristically awry for the #48 outfit.

Coming into the pits for a green flag refuelling, Johnson misjudged his speed and overshot the pit entry while getting sideways as the brakes locked up. That forced him round for another lap, but the initial aborted approach cost him time and track position and meant he ended up in third behind Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr., and ahead of David Reutimann and Jeff Gordon.

As the sun set and the skies darkened, Johnson set about taking care of business and undoing the damage, passing Truex for second on lap 108 and getting right up behind McMurray by lap 129 when the second yellow of the evening came out for debris on caution 2. The ensuing pit stops didn’t affect the leaders, and McMurray put in a strong restart to keep Johnson firmly in second as the field went green again: but within a lap, Johnson tangled with Truex,coming off the worse with a spin through the infield grass. The #48 wasn’t damaged, but Johnson returned to his pit box for some clean-up work, getting the grass removed from where it had become wedged in the splitter before it caused any overheating problems. Johnson took the restart in 24th place, but he would subsequently hit the wall after a strange issue with a new tyre that seemed to simply fall apart. The hit, and the ensuing pit stop for tyres and a check for damage, would put him two laps down and a distant 33rd position.

That left some unusual names free to fight for the lead up at the front. McMurray once again got a good start to hold off the challenge from new second-place man Jeff Gordon with Truex, David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer rounding out the top five. As the night fell and the air grew colder, the conditions seemed to work against Truex who started falling back, and in Gordon’s favour – on lap 166 he took the lead from McMurray, with Reutimann soon following Gordon past McMurray to take second place on lap 169.

The fourth and final caution of the evening came on lap 180, when Bill Elliot got loose and ended up spinning into a fairly average contact with the wall, which got a lot worse when Robby Gordon came steaming in, brakes locked up but not slowing him enough before he ploughed into the right hand side rear of Elliott’s inert car. It was a very heavy contact, enough to lift Gordon’s car briefly into the air, and it certainly smashed the engine to pieces as it shed copious amounts of fluids down the banking.

At the restart on lap 189, Gordon was in charge with Bowyer getting a great stop to go second ahead of McMurray, Reutimann and Carl Edwards. Gordon was looking ominously strong at this stage and started to pull away, while others who might have been expected to be among the challengers started to fall by the wayside: Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick headed to the garage for a fuel pump change; Greg Biffle announced that his engine was sounding deathly and that he was going to take his car to the outside line and try and nurse it to the end, as he fell back through the positions at a rapid rate. He didn’t make it – the engine expired on lap 228, but the car died courteously down on the apron, avoiding causing a caution.

It fell to David Reutimann to take the battle to Gordon, and he did – closing up on the 24 and then doing everything he could to wrest the lead. Whatever he tried, however, Gordon seemed able to parry, and it wasn’t until lap 213 than Reutimann finally pulled off the move and took to the front. Once he was past,however, Reutimann leapt away from Gordon, leaving Gordon to fight Clint Bowyer for second place.

There was one more crucial moment coming up – the final pit stop of the afternoon, whcih came around lap 233 and under green flag conditions. Once the stops cycled through, Reutimann was still in the lead by more than three seconds, but he was complaining of a really bad vibration. Would he be able to keep the car under control for the remaining 30 laps?

The bigger danger turned out to come from an unexpected direction: Carl Edwards passed Jeff Gordon for second and started to cut into Reutimann’s lead, but Reutimann held his nerve and maintained his pace. It was too much for Edwards to do anything about, and when no further late cautions materialised there was simply no stopping Reutimann from claiming the chequered flag without any dramas.

It was a consummate win – no fluke, just solid driving and avoiding any mistakes or dramas. It gave Reutimann an undeniable win, and a very welcome one in terms of Sprint Cup standings as it boosts him up tantalisingly close to the Chase positions. No wonder David Reuitmann was sporting an ear-to-ear grin in victory road as he was showed in celebratory Gatorade.

Race result

Pos  Driver                Car        Laps
 1.  David Reutimann       Toyota      267
 2.  Carl Edwards          Ford        267
 3.  Jeff Gordon           Chevrolet   267
 4.  Clint Bowyer          Chevrolet   267
 5.  Jamie McMurray        Chevrolet   267
 6.  Kasey Kahne           Ford        267
 7.  Jeff Burton           Chevrolet   267
 8.  Denny Hamlin          Toyota      267
 9.  Tony Stewart          Chevrolet   267
10.  Paul Menard           Ford        267
11.  Martin Truex Jr       Toyota      267
12.  David Ragan           Ford        267
13.  Matt Kenseth          Ford        267
14.  A.J. Allmendinger     Ford        267
15.  Mark Martin           Chevrolet   267
16.  Juan Montoya          Chevrolet   267
17.  Kyle Busch            Toyota      267
18.  Brad Keselowski       Dodge       267
19.  Joey Logano           Toyota      267
20.  Regan Smith           Chevrolet   267
21.  Elliott Sadler        Ford        267
22.  Ryan Newman           Chevrolet   267
23.  Dale Earnhardt Jr     Chevrolet   267
24.  Sam Hornish Jr        Dodge       267
25.  Jimmie Johnson        Chevrolet   267
26.  Kurt Busch            Dodge       265
27.  Reed Sorenson         Toyota      265
28.  Marcos Ambrose        Toyota      265
29.  Bobby Labonte         Chevrolet   265
30.  Scott Speed           Toyota      264
31.  Travis Kvapil         Ford        261
32.  David Gilliland       Ford        261
33.  Kevin Conway          Ford        256
34.  Kevin Harvick         Chevrolet   251
35.  Greg Biffle           Ford        225
36.  David Stremme         Ford        184
37.  Bill Elliott          Ford        176
38.  Robby Gordon          Toyota      174
39.  Landon Cassill        Chevrolet    73
40.  Casey Mears           Chevrolet    49
41.  Mike Bliss            Toyota       40
42.  Max Papis             Toyota       40
43.  Joe Nemechek          Toyota       20

Sprint Cup standings

 	 	 	 	 	 	
POS +/-  DRIVER                 POINTS  BEHIND  ST  P  W  T5  T10
1   --   Kevin Harvick          2745    Leader  19  0  2  8   13 
2   --   Jeff Gordon            2642    -103    19  0  0  10  11 
3   --   Jimmie Johnson         2557    -188    19  0  5  8   11 
4   +1   Denny Hamlin           2542    -203    19  0  5  7   8  
5   -1   Kurt Busch             2524    -221    19  2  2  7   11 
6   --   Kyle Busch             2488    -257    19  2  2  5   9  
7   +1   Jeff Burton            2465    -280    19  0  0  4   9  
8   -1   Matt Kenseth           2446    -299    19  0  0  4   8  
9   --   Tony Stewart           2389    -356    19  1  0  4   9  
10  +2   Carl Edwards           2345    -400    19  0  0  2   8  
11  -1   Greg Biffle            2292    -453    19  0  0  2   10 
12  +2   Clint Bowyer           2286    -459    19  0  0  2   10 
======= CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS =========
13  -2   Dale Earnhardt Jr.     2271    -474    19  1  0  2   6  
14  -1   Mark Martin            2249    -496    19  1  0  5   6  
15  +2   David Reutimann        2190    -555    19  0  1  4   4  
16  -1   Ryan Newman            2187    -558    19  1  1  2   6  
17  -1   Kasey Kahne            2166    -579    19  1  0  5   7  
18  +1   Jamie McMurray         2105    -640    19  3  1  5   6  
19  -1   Joey Logano            2103    -642    19  1  0  2   7  
20  --   Martin Truex Jr.       2060    -685    19  1  0  1   4  
21  --   Juan Montoya           2044    -701    19  1  0  4   8  
22  --   A.J. Allmendinger      2021    -724    19  1  0  0   3  
23  --   Paul Menard            1981    -764    19  0  0  1   3  
24  --   Scott Speed            1838    -907    19  0  0  0   2  
25  +1   David Ragan            1836    -909    19  0  0  0   1  
26  -1   Brad Keselowski        1830    -915    19  0  0  0   0  
27  +1   Elliott Sadler         1750    -995    19  0  0  0   0  
28  -1   Marcos Ambrose         1739    -1006   19  0  0  0   2  
29  --   Sam Hornish Jr.        1695    -1050   19  0  0  0   0  
30  --   Regan Smith            1599    -1146   19  0  0  0   0  
31  --   Bobby Labonte          1467    -1278   19  0  0  0   0  
32  --   Robby Gordon           1383    -1362   17  0  0  1   1  
33  --   Travis Kvapil          1303    -1442   18  0  0  0   0  
34  --   David Gilliland        1260    -1485   16  0  0  0   0  
35  --   Kevin Conway*          1233    -1512   18  0  0  0   0  
36  --   Brian Vickers          1158    -1587   11  0  0  0   3  
37  --   David Stremme          825     -1920   11  0  0  0   0  
38  --   Mike Bliss             799     -1946   11  0  0  0   2  
39  --   Joe Nemechek           763     -1982   18  0  0  0   0  
40  --   Max Papis              736     -2009   15  0  0  0   0  
41  --   Dave Blaney            622     -2123   15  0  0  0   0  
42  --   Casey Mears            599     -2146   8   0  0  0   0  
43  +2   Bill Elliott           500     -2245   6   0  0  0   0  
44  -1   J.J. Yeley             491     -2254   8   0  0  0   0  
45  -1   Michael McDowell       471     -2274   12  0  0  0   0  
46  +1   Reed Sorenson          435     -2310   6   0  0  0   1  
47  -1   Boris Said             399     -2346   5   0  0  0   1  
48  --   Robert Richardson Jr.  249     -2496   3   0  0  0   0  
49  --   Michael Waltrip        200     -2545   3   0  0  0   0  
50  --   Todd Bodine            169     -2576   4   0  0  0   0  
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