By Tim Tuttle
February 17, 2010

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't alone in his mad dash run from 10th to second in the final two laps of the Daytona 500. When Earnhardt went to the middle down the backstretch, David Reutimann darted behind him and bump drafted him past Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer going into Turn 3.

"It was probably lost in everything that happened," Reutimann said. "I got a good run off Turn 2 and got the back of the 88. I hit him as hard as I could hit him. I gave him an extra shove and it worked out well for me and it worked out really well for him."

Reutimann's Toyota went from 12th to fifth, his best finish in four Daytona 500s and seven Sprint Cup races at the track.

Without a drafting partner, the middle lane was no-man's land, a spot where you go dead in the water. Earnhardt could have slipped back many positions in the run to the checkered flag.

"It didn't appear the middle was a place to make ground on," Reutimann said. "The middle was not producing a lot of results there. You had to have a pretty good run. It was the last lap, you had to go for it. He (Earnhardt) was already making his move to the center, it seemed right to make the move at that time."

Reutimann knocked Earnhardt so far ahead, he didn't have a drafting partner any more.

"I got under the 33 (Bowyer) and got to the back bumper of the 16 (Biffle) going across start finish," Reutimann said.

It was a savvy move by Reutimann to seize the opportunity of Earnhardt flying down the middle, further evidence that the late bloomer has blossomed into an A list Cup driver. This is Reutimann's fourth Cup season and he'll be 40 on March 2.

"It (fifth) was a great way to start the season," Reutimann said. "It was good timing. It just happened to be one of those times I got in the right line."

Daytona's restrictor plate racing requires a different skill and mindset than everywhere except Talladega, and it typically takes time to learn. Some guys never get it. Reutimann does. His previous best finish at Daytona was 12th, last year.

"You kind of react to what happens," he said. "I think certain guys are better at it than others. I'm still learning, trying to hone my craft. It's an art for sure."

Teammate Martin Truex Jr. led with two laps remaining in regulation and finished sixth following the two green-white-checkereds. Two cars in the top six at Daytona for Michael Waltrip Racing would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago.

"Martin had a tremendous day," Reutimann said. "He was up front all day long. For us to have two cars in the top 10, that's solid runs and solid results."

Reutimann was a Chase contender last year, finishing 16th in the points. He won the rain-shortened 567.5-mile race at Charlotte in May and had four more top-fives, the first of his career. In 2008, he was 22nd in points with his initial top-10s (four) in Cup. You can chart his progress.

Michael Waltrip's team, a virtual start-up in 2007, has also made remarkable progress and, with Reutimann's development and Truex joining it, this should be the team's best year.

"We've come a long way in a short amount of time," Reutimann said.

"All-in-all, we've covered a lot of ground. It's not the same team we started with, but we've got more ground to cover."

Reutimann's goal is the Chase. It's realistic. He believes he'll be there in September when the 10-race playoff begins.

"Absolutely," je said. "At least at our team and within our organization, it's expected. If we don't, then it's going to be a little hard to deal with.

"Getting in the Chase is a big deal, but winning some races along the way to do that is definitely a priority. If you win races, then your chances of getting in the Chase are a lot better with the points gained that day. Our goal is to win races and be consistent, that's our main goal. Sometimes you lose focus so much on trying to win races that trying to get top-five finishes or top-10 finishes are what ultimately will get us into the Chase. You have to be aggressive, but you can't lose sight of what you're really trying to do."

Reutimann heads to California for Sunday's second race of the season at the Auto Club Speedway with momentum.

"It's very important," he said. "It's always helpful to start the season strong."

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