By: Farrah Kaye
Last week in Martinsville, while Danica Patrick relaxed far away from the track during her off weekend from the Nationwide series, David Reutimann, her co-pilot of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas/Tommy Baldwin Racing machine, brought out an ill-timed caution with just three laps left of the 500-lap race. The caution forced pit strategy – new tires versus old tires – and ended the days of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who had battled all day to give Rick Hendrick his 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
The blame game started immediately after the race. Clint Bowyer dive-bombed into the corner… Ryan Newman got into Bowyer… Reutimann should have gotten off the track… Reutimann was keeping the car on the track so Patrick doesn’t have to qualify at Darlington… Where was Brian Vickers? (Joking!)
For some, the “Top 35 Rule” is outdated. For others, it’s necessary. With the new qualifying rule for rain-outs and the points / number-swapping, it’s confusing.
The Top 35 Rule (or Top 30 in Nationwide and Top 25 in Trucks) is pretty simple. After the first five races of the season – in which owner points are based on the previous season – only the top 35 cars in owner points are locked into the race. The rest must qualify on time. These cars are called “Go or Go Home” cars during qualifying and compete with each other for the remaining spots.
If there is a rain-out for qualifying, the lineup is based on practice times, so it is important that all cars post at least one lap.
The top 35 can change from week-to-week and with the new points system, literally one point can keep you out of the top 35. Reutimann is the perfect example. After his DNF, he left Martinsville just one point out of the top 35, putting him in 36th behind Landon Cassill. Had he finished just one position higher, he would have been in the top 35 and there would be no further discussion.
Immediately, everyone remembered Patrick would be behind the wheel of the car on May 12 at Darlington and assumed Reutimann was fighting to stay in the top 35 for her not to have to qualify at the track known to be “too tough to tame.” Reutimann was quick to fight back, saying he did it for himself and his team.
Other competitors were not happy with his actions. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had battled for the win during the day but eventually ended up third, had his own opinion on Reutimann.
“I just don’t know what the No.10 (Reutimann) was thinking with a broken sway bar and driving around there at 15 mph for two or three laps,” he said. “Come on pit road; hell, how many laps down are you? Get on pit road. Get out of the race. It shouldn’t have ended like that. It was unfortunate.”
After the race, a dejected Reutimann said the following:
“Number one, I just hate it. I don’t even know how the race ended up finishing, but I just hate that I was involved in anything that changed the complexion of the race so I got to apologize to the guys that it affected. I was just trying to limp around there. We needed to finish the next couple of laps to try to stay in the top 35. I would not have stopped on the freaking racetrack. I would have limped it around there and come to pit road, which is what I was trying to do. The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I just didn’t stop there intentionally. I know it sucks. I hate it for everybody that it affected, but I mean I can’t get out and push the thing. It shut off. It’s that simple. They gave me the black flag. We were coming to pit road, and it shut off. And that’s far as I could go.”
Next weekend NASCAR is back at Texas Motor Speedway. Patrick will wheel the No. 7 GoDaddy Chevrolet in the Nationwide series. Her best finish at the track is 11th, which came last fall, just two weeks after she officially ended her IndyCar career.
Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Digital Medai and is a member of the NMPA. Her previous articles have appeared on SPEEDtv.com, newsweek.com and she holds a degree in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Farrah_Kaye.