CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Atwood ran in the top 10 for much of the race last Sunday at Pocono Raceway. The Raybestos rookie of the year contender ended up parking his No. 19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid after 157 of...
CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Atwood ran in the top 10 for much of the race last Sunday at Pocono Raceway. The Raybestos rookie of the year contender ended up parking his No. 19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid after 157 of 200 laps with engine problems, but Atwood ran as high as sixth and had his sights set on his first top-five finish for car owner Ray Evernham. Instead, Atwood finished 38th and dropped to 34th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. He's fourth in the six-driver rookie competition. It was Atwood's first Cup race at Pocono, and he'll be in the same boat on Sunday at Sears Point.
"That's the most excited I've been in a Winston Cup car," Atwood said. "We were running sixth and keeping up with the leaders. You wish engine problems would happen when you're not running good, but they knew we were there at Pocono. It did a lot for my confidence, and I think it gave the team more confidence in me. I talked to everybody after the race, and the team was really pumped up. I'm excited for them. We gained positions in the pits on just about every pit stop.
"The first few laps of the race the clutch was a little stiff. I was scared to press it. After the first yellow flag, it came back. I was real pleased with the way we ran. Pocono turned out to be a real good track for me. I like racing on the flat tracks. My best Cup finish came at Homestead last year, and it's a flat track. My first Busch Grand National win came at Milwaukee and it's a flat track, too, and I won a pole in the Busch Series at Homestead.
"I don't have a lot of road course experience other than in go-karts. The go-karts weigh about 200 pounds and the Cup cars weigh 3,400 pounds. I enjoy road racing. It's a lot of fun, and it's a lot different than racing on the ovals. Ray (Evernham) obviously knows the setups for Sears Point because Jeff Gordon's won a bunch of races out there. I drove some Vipers at the Dodge Proving Grounds in Chelsea (Mich.) when we were up there for the Cup race, and that was a lot of fun. It probably won't help me with the Winston Cup car on the road course other than it got me more used to turning right.
"I've never been to the San Francisco area. If I do anything while I'm out there, I'd like to go to Alcatraz. My dad is always watching the Discovery Channel, and I'm sure he'd like to go, so we might do that on Saturday afternoon. Other than that, it'll be business as usual.
"The rookie race is really a good one this season, but it's hard to call most of those guys rookies when it comes to racing. They're just Winston Cup rookies. You really can't call a guy like Ron Hornaday a rookie. He's been racing a long time, and so have I. It's just that we're in our first season as Winston Cup drivers and have to attend the rookie meetings and put the yellow stripe on our cars.
"You're racing 43 people out there every Sunday. You're not racing against the six or seven rookies out there. If you're out there doing what you need to do, the rookie stuff will work out on its own.
"I come from the Busch Series and we don't have near as much power over there. It seems like you drive in the corner pretty hard. That's one of the main thing I've had to do in Winston Cup, not drive into the corner so hard. With the extra weight and extra speed on this tire, if you drive in there hard, it won't turn once you get there. It feels like you can go in further, but if you do, you actually slow up. The other thing that's been hard for me to get used to is the length of the race. Busch races are half the distance. I don't have any problem with the physical part of Winston Cup racing, but you have twice the time to screw up something and get put in the back."