David Reutimann won't be the center of attention when the Busch Series holds its awards banquet Friday night. Those honors will go to champion Carl Edwards and, to a lesser extent, Richard Childress, who won the owners' championship.
Reutimann, though, had a season worth celebrating, finishing second in points and picking up his first win in the series. And it will be hard to find fault if at some point during his time in Orlando, Reutimann is heard saying, "Wait till next year."
To say it was a rocky season for Michael Waltrip Racing would be beyond an understatement. The organization's debut Nextel Cup season was nothing short of a nightmare many times over. The lone stability, in fact, was Reutimann's Busch Series team, led by crew chief Jerry Baxter.
And considering it was the first full year Reutimann and Baxter worked together, it's easy to see why the driver expects nothing short of a championship effort in 2008.
"We've had some ups and downs on the [Busch] side, too, but more ups than downs," Reutimann said. "The guys have done a great job, and we've had good cars all year and were able to squeeze out a win. I'm real pleased with the way things have gone and more pleased that I'll be back doing the same thing next year with the same team. That's pretty exciting."
There was a time a few months ago when Reutimann's plans for 2008 were uncertain. Michael Waltrip Racing wanted to keep him, but other owners were courting him as well.
Then, when the team wanted him to transition to driving the No. 44 Toyota upon Dale Jarrett's in-season retirement in '08, the plan presented was that he would run in only the Cup next year. Reutimann, though, insisted on also running for the championship in what will be the Nationwide Series.
"The team is solid, very strong, and they're doing a great job," Reutimann said. "I think we can win a championship, and you don't always have situations like that, so I didn't feel like I could just walk away from that without giving it another try. That was a big selling point for me."
There are worse things than finishing second in a season, but Edwards' team struggled mightily during the second half of the year, and Reutimann still couldn't cut into the deficit in a meaningful fashion. So it's clear his team has plenty of work to do.
Reutimann, though, feels the team is ready for the challenge, based on the improvements he saw over the course of the year.
"There were times we struggled, and Carl was running awful good," he said. "At the end of the day, Carl is with a very solid organization [Roush Fenway Racing], and this was our first year with Toyota. And it was Jerry's first full year as a crew chief, so I think our organization has come a long way.
"I'm really proud of our guys. I'm pleased with everything. I've got no complaints. But if you look at the deficit between first and second, it's pretty large, but we still out-ran a lot of other good teams."
Baxter is satisfied with the results of the season and said winning at Memphis provided a huge boost in the confidence level of the entire operation. But in 2008, winning just one race won't suffice.
"Our goal is to win [the championship]," he said. "I'm sure we can run with [Edwards], and we're looking to do it."
Baxter said Reutimann constantly was learning things behind the wheel, but that wasn't the only development as the year went on.
"We're just able to talk better with each other and kind of figure out what each other needs," Baxter said of the team's setup. "I think that's why we were running better later on in the year."
On the Cup side, Reutimann knows the team has a long, long way to go, but he did see improvement late in the season. And he's excited about a year in which he will start in the No. 00 until Jarrett steps out of the No. 44 following the spring race at Martinsville.
"I'm pretty sad that Dale Jarrett won't be my teammate on a full-time basis, because he's done a lot for me this year and I've learned a lot from him, but I have to go in there and try to drive his car," Reutimann said. "I'm not going to ever be able to fill his shoes -- I'm just gonna drive his car on the weekends."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.