David Reutimann knows it's early, knows there are too many miles and too many twists and turns left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season to get too excited.
Still, the Zephyrhills native is enjoying his success this season.
For a guy who has spent the majority of his Cup career either fighting to make races or to get his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota anywhere near the top of the grid, finding his name far up the standings isn't a bad thing.
Going into Sunday's race at Bristol, Reutimann is 12th in points. He was fifth in the standings before his 32nd-place finish March 8 in Atlanta. It's rarified air for the affable 39-year-old, who has never finished better than 22nd in points and still seeks his first Cup victory.
"(There's) a lot of racing left," said Reutimann, who will start sixth on Sunday. "But I've seen my name listed on the outside of the top 35 before. And I like this a whole lot more."
He should. Reutimann is leading the way for Waltrip's resurgent Toyota program. He finished 12th at Daytona, then backed it up by running 14th at California and a career-best fourth at Las Vegas.
Reutimann did wonder a little about having his momentum slowed by last week's off weekend for NASCAR.
"You always have the danger, you think if things are going well (and) you have an off weekend, it's going to mess up everything that you've got going on," he said. "Obviously you want to be there every week, especially when things are going your way."
Reutimann can't quite put a finger on what has led to his hot start. In his mind, it has been the continuation of something his team started in the fall.
After struggling to find consistency for most of 2008, Reutimann was among the better non-Chase drivers at the end of the year. He posted three top 10s in the last 12 races and won the pole in the season finale at Homestead.
The results were enough to keep the majority of his team intact during the offseason. While Rodney Childers, former crew chief for Elliot Sadler and Scott Riggs, was brought on board, the rest of the team remained the same.
"Basically our same core group of people are there, just with a new crew chief," Reutimann said. "Everything's kind of jelled rather quickly."
Thanks to NASCAR's ban on offseason testing, Reutimann didn't really have a choice. Yet he saw the ban as a blessing of sorts. Rather than spend money hopping around from track to track, MWR had a little extra cash to put in engine development and equipment.
"I feel a lot of teams were testing and spending that money just because they felt like they had to because the other larger teams that had the budgets were doing that," he said.
But big tests remain before Reutimann will call himself a contender. The bumper-car insanity of Bristol will be followed by Martinsville. Those are the two shortest tracks (0.533 and 0.526 miles, respectively) in the series.
"I think our short track stuff, we have some work to do on that," he said.
Yet he can do it without the nauseous feeling that used to come when he arrived at the track knowing he would have to qualify to make the race because he was outside the top 35 in owner points. He has vivid memories of 2007 when he failed to make the field in eight events and talked about those circumstances.
When his weekends ended early, Reutimann admits he was a "miserable person to be around." Though that may be putting it a bit too harshly for a driver considered among the nicest on the circuit.
"You know you have to go out there and you basically have one lap to try and get into the race and it's going to make or break your weekend," he said. "You doubt yourself sometimes. You doubt what's been going on around you. I've been through all that."
Which is why Reutimann is nowhere close to getting ahead of himself. Too many drivers have seen decent starts come undone as the tempers and temperatures rise.
"I don't think your mentality changes any," he said. "I think you still try to be as careful as you possibly can and still make sure you have a car in a good enough situation at the end of the race."