MEMPHIS, Tenn. – David Reutimann failed to qualify for Sunday’s Nextel Cup event at Atlanta, so he soothed his feelings with his first Busch Series win.
Reutimann avoided trouble to capture the caution-filled Sam’s Town 250 at Memphis Motorsports Park on Saturday. The 37-year-old Toyota driver endured a green-white-checker finish for his first Busch Series victory in 63 starts. It also was owner Michael Waltrip’s first victory for the manufacturer.
“I was mad in general that I missed the (Atlanta) race,” Reutimann said. “It feels good to win here. The only thing that could make it better is to get on the plane and go back and run the Cup race. That’s not going to happen.”
With the victory, outdistancing second-place finisher Mike Bliss, and some misfortune for points leader Carl Edwards, Reutimann kept his slim championship hopes alive. Edwards needed at least an eighth-place finish to claim the title. He was 25th.
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Edwards still leads Reutimann by 531 points with three Busch stops left.
The race had a season-high 25 cautions, which also broke the record of 16 for the Memphis race. The yellows were one short of the Busch Series record of 26 set 1992 at Hickory, N.C.
“It was incredible,” Bliss said. “I couldn’t believe it. We’d get going and here would be a yellow. We’d get going, and there’d be another yellow. I don’t know why.
“It was frustrating. You want to go racing.”
One of the wrecks involved Edwards, effectively diminishing his chance to clinch the series championship Saturday.
Edwards entered the event with a 638-point lead over Reutimann. But on Lap 130, Edwards collided with Sterling Marlin’s spinning car, crumpling the front and left side of his car. Edwards would later get back on the lead lap, benefiting from another caution, but could not make up enough distance and was falling back at the end.
The event was the first Busch Series race for reigning Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti. The 38-year-old IndyCar Series champ, who will run a full NASCAR season next year, started third after morning qualifying. He got into the back of Brandon Miller on Lap 192, causing damage to the right front of his Dodge.
Franchitti was held a lap for aggressive driving after the incident, would eventually be involved in another brush and finished 32nd.
“The guy is good,” Reutimann said of Franchitti. “He’s smooth. This place is not an easy race track.
“For a guy’s second race, it was pretty amazing, pretty impressive. I’m not sure what he’s got in store for us. He’s going to do nothing but get better, and he’s already good.”
David Ragan finished third, while pole-winner Marcos Ambrose was fourth. Jason Leffler finished fifth.
With cars running into each other and parts hanging off the frames, Reuttiman’s Toyota ran up front for 194 laps. He acknowledged that his car’s only scratch was from him brushing the fence earlier in the day.
Reutimann said drivers who ran with him, such as Bliss and Scott Wimmer, raced him clean, and being ahead of the pack where cars were spinning, banging and swerving was a benefit.
“It was life or death with all the stuff that was going on,” Reutimann said of running up front. “More up front than in the back, there seemed to be a little less banging.”
The race was slow-paced because of the run of cautions that began early and contributed to some short tempers. Robert Richardson Jr. was given a two-lap penalty for aggressive driving, while NASCAR penalized Kyle Krisiloff after another incident. Brad Keselowski was assessed a two-lap penalty, too.
After Bobby Hamilton Jr. was taken out in an early accident, he said “That’s what happens when you are in the back of all those idiots.”