DAYTONA BEACH — Zephyrhills' David Reutimann learned Thursday morning that his No. 00 Toyota is fully sponsored for the entire Sprint Cup season. Tampa's Aric Almirola learned days ago that his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing No. 8 Chevrolet is funded for at least his first start in the Daytona 500.
It was hard to tell who was happier.
"That's huge," Reutimann said.
Reutimann, 38, enters his third full season at Michael Waltrip Racing after finishing 22nd in points and winning the pole in the final race of the 2008 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Michael Waltrip said creative pestering and the demise of the Arena Football League — with which Aaron's had a sponsorship deal — helped secure the funding.
"I said (to Aaron's executives), 'Reutimann's going to win. You watch,' " he said. " 'If he wins in somebody (else's) car, that's really going to get on my nerves because you put us here.'
"(Reutimann) was going to leave here and go to California either without a sponsor, with a different sponsor, and I just couldn't handle that."
Reutimann, who has won in the trucks and Nationwide series, had four Sprint Cup top 10s in 2008 and became more competitive as the season progressed. He has not won a Cup race.
Almirola's situation is more tenuous, but after acknowledging in late January that his team perhaps lacked funding to attempt the second race of the season at Fontana, Calif., at least the prospect of a full first season was heartening.
Almirola, 24, shared the No. 8 last season at Dale Earnhardt Inc. before it merged with Ganassi to form, sponsors pending, a four-car Sprint Cup operation. He has made 18 Cup starts (finishing eighth at Bristol last season), 27 in Nationwide — where he won in 2007 — and 33 in trucks since 2005. Almirola has seemingly waited eons for the opportunity, after beginning his career at Joe Gibbs Racing, moving to Ginn for a quicker path to Cup, only to have that team merge with DEI.
"It's cool to see how much stuff has come together the last couple weeks," Almirola said of his sponsor situation. "We've gotten a lot of interest over the last few weeks. This was the first thing we've gotten done, but we have quite a few other things that are right there on the verge of getting done, so I'm pretty happy about that."
Drivers cleared: All drivers passed the first round of NASCAR's newly implemented drug testing procedures, chairman Brian France said. Waltrip jokingly said he "got a 98," as drivers seemed generally not bothered by the policy.
Budweiser Shootout: Paul Menard picked the Budweiser bottle with the pole-position flag inside at the draw party (Complete starting lineup, 8C).
Times wires contributed to this report.