DAVID REUTIMANN, No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
What are your thoughts about the 2009 season and your first Sprint Cup Series win?
“I think we turned a lot of major corners and overcame a lot of major hurdles to actually get to that point. I’ve still got some work cut out for us, but I feel really good about what we have going on at Michael Waltrip Racing. With the progress we made last year, we just need to keep making that kind of progress and those kind of strides to get us a little bit better.”
What has changed to give you confidence as a driver?
“I think we continue to refine our cars -- our cars made all the difference for us last year. There were a lot of different things, but our cars -- we showed up with a better piece when we unloaded. That in itself was a major, major difference. It’s not like we got done at the end of the season and covered them up. They’ve gone back, they’ve cut things apart and redone things. They’ve reworked the front clips and done different things to continue to make the cars lighter, which is always a struggle. I feel like with the engineering support we’re getting from within and from Toyota Racing Development (TRD) -- again, TRD has given us more horsepower and that’s always a plus. With the addition of Pat Tryson (Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief) and Martin Truex (Jr.) bringing a whole new perspective to our organization and looking at things a little differently, I feel like we’re a little bit farther ahead. Plus, on top of that -- every year since I’ve been Cup racing I haven’t had the same crew chief the following year -- this year I have Rodney Childers, so we won’t have to try to figure each other out like I have in the past. I’m welcoming that -- it’s going to be a nice change.”
Will it be different without Michael Waltrip on the track every week?
“Michael (Waltrip) still wants to race. If Michael gets in the right situation, he can still win races, hands down, no doubt in my mind or anyone else’s in this organization. Hopefully, he’ll be able run the races he’s going to run this year and more, be able to accelerate and add some more sponsorship to run more races. It feels weird knowing -- that when we’re all out at California that Michael Waltrip probably will not be in the field with us, that’s a little bit different but hard to take because Michael is my buddy and he’s been awfully good to me and treated me awfully well. I want to see him happy. I know it was his decision to step back, but I know he’s going to miss it and we’re going to miss having him there.”
What do you think about NASCAR saying they’re going to let you guys drive?
“As a rule, you try to take pretty good care of drivers around you. You try to take care of one another. Sometimes, you mess up and you don’t take very good care of them. The main deal, -- what you have to do is put some of the responsibility back in the driver’s hands and try to look out for one another a little bit. NASCAR was in a no-win situation with those rules anyway -- they couldn’t win. At the end of the day, if one driver runs over another one, then that guy is mad at the other guy, but at least they’re not mad at NASCAR. The fans are asking for this, they’re asking for less policing of the racing and I think NASCAR is listening. I don’t think any other sport can say they’re doing this. There is no other major league sport that listens to the fans the way NASCAR does and makes changes. They asked for double-file restarts -- they got it. There’s a lot of things they’ve asked for and I think NASCAR is trying to accommodate them.”
Have you gotten over the disappointment of not making the 2009 Chase?
“Yes and no. If you look back at it, you’re really disappointed in the way things went. But, at the same time, it’s a new year, new season with some new sponsors on board, you have to put that kind of stuff behind you. For me it’s difficult because we came so far and accomplished so much. Getting in the Chase and running well would have been a really good end to the year to come as far as we did, but it didn’t work out for us so now it makes you that much more hungry to go out there and try to do what we were supposed to do last year.”
What do you think of possibly adding a spoiler back to these race cars?
“I think it’s probably a step in the right direction. I think it’s a positive. Nobody really knows how it’s going to make the cars feel or handle. We’ll have an opportunity, I’m sure to maybe test a little bit -- I don’t know this for a fact, but I would think NASCAR would let us go to a mile-and-a-half race track and try it. Get a little bit of a head start on what it’s going to be like. They’re not just going to throw us out there and say, ‘Okay, we’re changing the wing, see what happens.’ They’ll have a good idea about how the car is going to act and we’ll have a better idea when we go to the first race. I feel like it’s going to be a good addition.”
What areas do you need to improve upon for 2010?
“Pit road, there were times we struggled on pit road and lost a lot of time. You know how hard it is to make it up. That hurt us some. Me, as a driver, me personally making mistakes, that certainly hasn’t helped us. There’s sometimes that the feedback with Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and I -- I was asking for something and he didn’t quite understand how much I was asking for. That’s all part of having a new crew chief. We finally got past that. There were sometimes when our communication wasn’t what it was, not because he wasn’t listening to me or I wasn’t speaking clearly, but when I’m yelling and it’s loose, sometimes Rodney would make a small adjustment when he needed to make a big one or sometimes it would just be the opposite. That all comes down to him getting to know me as a driver and knowing what I’m saying when I’m saying it. When you talk about Chad Knaus (Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief) and Jimmie Johnson, Chad can probably tell by the tone of Jimmie’s voice how much he needs. Rodney and I hadn’t had that opportunity yet. Now, for the second year, we’ve got that. We had meetings during the off-season, we talked about a lot of things we could have done better. Rodney did a phenomenal job. If I had my choice to go down pit road and pick anyone, I’d still pick Rodney Childers -- he's the right guy for me.”
How much will Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose push you to be better?
“They will push me a great deal. It’s very important to have teammates that push you. You want competition within, but you don’t want the competition to undermine what you’re trying to build. You have those deals where Marcos (Ambrose) is trying this or they’re doing this, that or the other thing. You want to do it a little bit better, you want to step up your game. It’s important to have it within your organization -- drivers that challenge one another to get better. Also, at the same time, having drivers that try to help, i.e., Marcos Ambrose tried to help me on the road courses. The guy spent a lot of time with me trying to help me do things. Hopefully Martin (Truex Jr.) will also help me, I think he will. There are situations where I can help those guys. If we do that, then at the end of the day we could be one, two, three -- as long as I’m the guy that’s in the one spot, I’ll be happy in that area.”
How has Toyota progressed since entering NASCAR?
“Since I’ve been driving in a NASCAR series, I’ve basically never been with anybody but Toyota. I’ve been with them since their first race and testing the Truck to Nationwide to Cup. I’ve been with Toyota the whole way and seen the growing pains. We had part failures and have all those things that you have as you’re growing and building a program around something. It’s been neat to see the persistence that they’ve had and the work ethic that they’ve had. Motor engineers and the guys that build the motors, coming and sitting down with you and explaining to you what they’re doing and what they’re doing to rectify a situation. I don’t think any other organization has that. Toyota is very in the forefront. They don’t make a lot of noise, but they keep you informed and always refining things. Those guys never, ever quit. Every time you look at a Toyota motor, something seems to be moved or different, trying to get the weight lower and do all the things they do. They’re always thinking about what to make, how to make their mouse trap a little bit better.”
Were you apprehensive to start with a company like Toyota?
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that Toyota is a very American company. If you’ve been on tour with them, and been to the truck plant in (San Antonio) Texas and the places in (Georgetown) Kentucky, where you can see it’s basically a big part of the fabric of America. Going in, NASCAR fans don’t like change a whole lot. They like the same thing -- they like what they’ve seen for a lot of years. I think there was some resistance early on. In the Truck series I noticed a little bit and as time has gone on, I think fans realize that Toyota is not trying to take over. They’re just trying to race and be a part of the program. NASCAR has allowed them to do that. I think they, and us at Michael Waltrip Racing, are happy to be a part of it.”
Do you review your races on tape or do you have a photographic memory?
“Sometimes we do watch the races, but for the most part we have a pretty good idea where things weren’t going like they should have and where we did things wrong and should have done them different. We generally go over those things in the Monday morning meetings, when things are still pretty fresh or sometimes on the plane flight home. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and I will sit together and (say) ‘This is what happened, this is what I was feeling when we changed that and it didn’t help. We went in the wrong direction.’ Rodney just writes things down and the next time we go back, you don’t make the same mistake if you did make a mistake. Sometimes you just try things and it doesn’t work. It’s not necessarily a mistake. It’s just the car didn’t react to it.”
What do you think about the addition of Pat Tryson to MWR?
“I think it’s important for any organization, a multi-car organization, to have drivers that challenge one another. We have Marcos Ambrose who is a separate team, but the same thing, we all work extremely well together so it’s just like he’s a teammate, because he is. I think it kind of raises the bar, so to speak, and I think the main thing is having a different crew chief that will look at things a little differently and Pat Tryson has won races with a lot of different kind of drivers, drivers with different backgrounds and mentalities. He gives a whole, fresh look to our organization and I think that helps us look in a different direction and find speed where we weren’t looking before.”
What do you think about Marcos Ambrose?
“That guy is phenomenal. Marcos Ambrose is just a talent. Everybody says he’s a road course guy, but you take him to Bristol and he runs good. You don’t just take anyone to Bristol and they run well, that’s a tough race track. He does good at the speedways. The road courses, obviously he’s one of the guys to beat. He’s very, very close -- it wouldn’t surprise me to see Marcos Ambrose win some races this year. It wouldn’t have surprised me last year, the way he was running. He’s an extremely talented guy and I learned a lot from him.”
What do you think of the progress Toyota has made?
“The thing that can be aggravating about the process is that sometimes it’s slow because they are so methodical about testing things. They want zero failures. They’re not going to give us something -- even though you hear about this new cam configuration or whatever it is they’re working on, it’s going to be better but they won’t give it to you until it’s been tested thoroughly. As a driver, you’re like ‘Wow, that’s going to be better, give it to me like now. It’ll be okay.’ That’s the mentality you have, that’s not Toyota mentality. They want zero failures when it rolls out there. That’s what you get. When you get something, it’s been proven to produce and perform or it won’t go on the race car. That’s just how they do it.”
What do you think of racing in Daytona?
“I love it because I consider that to be my home race track. Being from Florida and going over and watching races and being part of that. Early on I was trying to figure out how I was going to get from the stands to the infield without having to jump a fence or hide in someone’s trunk. That was pretty unique. I love going to Daytona -- that place is very special to me. It’s a tough old race track. It’s not the most forgiving place you go to, but it definitely has character and is one of the more cool places we go.”
What do you think of the expectations others have for your season?
“I think it’s a blessing and a curse. Early on, it was like ‘Wow, the 00 car finished in the top-10.’ That was a big deal. I noticed toward the end of the year if we were running in the top-10, it was like ‘Good job.’ They expected that. That’s how it should be, they should expect that. A bad race for you needs to be a 12th-place finish, that needs to be a bad day and anything else than that needs to be a miserable day. That’s how you have to do it, because that’s how the guys who are in the Chase are doing. That’s what the 48 (Johnson) is doing. Jimmie Johnson ran 12th one day and you would have thought that was the worst thing that ever happened. It wasn’t that long ago I would have been doing a back flip, an impression of Carl Edwards after finishing 12th. It’s kind of strange how your perspective changes as you have more success.”
When was the first time you dreamed of winning the Daytona 500?
“I can probably remember running my first go kart and thinking about winning at Daytona. I was probably around six or seven years old thinking about that. My dad was a dirt car racer, so all I wanted to do was be like my dad. Daytona seemed like, although it was only a couple hours down the road, it seemed like an awful long way away.”
When did you feel you could someday win the Daytona 500?