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By MONTE DUTTON
Second place was almost a first, and who could blame David Reutimann for feeling that way after the inaugural Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on July 9?
Before roaring past five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson at the finish, Reutimann, who has two career Cup wins, had finished no better than ninth in 2011.
"We unfortunately have a bit of a history of being fast when it doesn't really matter," said Reutimann. "Tonight worked out where we were fast at the end of the race, which is evidently what you've got to do.
"Proud of my guys."
The 41-year-old Reutimann is from a racing family. Father Buzzie is a short-track legend. The Zephyrhills, Fla., native made his Cup debut on Oct. 15, 2005 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and claimed his first victory at the same track in 2009. He followed up with a Chicagoland Speedway triumph in 2010.
Kentucky aside, Reutimann has struggled this year. He is 24th in the point standings, 201 behind current leader -- and Kentucky winner -- Kyle Busch. Reutimann trails 10th place -- and one path to the Chase -- by 106. With eight races to go, the odds are long, but his best chance is to win one race (preferably two) and get into the top 20 in points. He only trails the current occupant of 20th place, Joey Logano, by 46. Two Chase spots go to drivers on the basis of victories, but eligibility is limited to the top 20 in points at the end of the regular season.
"One thing about this sport," said Reutimann, "it changes every week. We seem to have been behind on things. We knew we were behind, but you just don't make changes overnight. Between the help of Toyota and their engineering staff, Toyota Racing Development, all the guys at Michael Waltrip Racing, guys being in the wind tunnel, working their guts out, finally got us a car, at least this weekend, we're closer to what we needed.
"Not that we've had bad cars in the past. The guys you're running against, their cars constantly evolving, changing things. We're trying to catch up sometimes."
Monte Dutton covers motorsports for The Gaston (N.C.) Gazette. E-mail Monte at firstname.lastname@example.org.