Fastest Rookie Press Conference Casey Atwood, Sammy Johns FRED NATION: Welcome. We have our fastest rookie here. Congratulations. Welcome to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. How did you get that job done there today? CASEY ATWOOD: Just had a...
Fastest Rookie Press Conference
Casey Atwood, Sammy Johns
FRED NATION: Welcome. We have our fastest rookie here. Congratulations. Welcome to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. How did you get that job done there today?
CASEY ATWOOD: Just had a great car. Sammy and the guys back at the shop built a brand-new car to come here. It was fast right off the bat here in testing. Just got a pretty good lap in. The track loosened up a little bit from this morning's practice, but we were still able to get a pretty good lap and good starting position.
You're a Nashville boy, that's only about four hours down the road from here. How much did you ever really kind of pay attention to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and think one day, hey, I'm going to drive up there?
ATWOOD: I've seen a lot of this track just from being a race fan as a young kid. I've watched some Indy 500s here and I especially started paying attention to it when Winston Cup started coming here. So they said I'm the youngest driver to ever start a race here, so that's a great honor. I mean I know this is a very special race. I know everybody puts this high on their list to be a race they want to win. So it feels good to run good here.
Casey, could you just give us a synopsis of the season, just a brief capsule of the learning curve you've gone through and whether you're satisfied or dissatisfied?
ATWOOD: Yeah, I'm really satisfied with what we've got going on right now. It's been a bit of a struggle, the first half of the season was. We had some pretty good runs, just had a lot of bad luck. Sammy has really helped our program out a lot. He's come on and brought some experience to the team and we really started running good the last month or so. We've had some really good finishes, a couple top fifteens in a row and getting stronger. I think we're going to have a really good second half.
Casey, a lot is made about a lot of young guys turning professional in other sports like the NBA, things like that. But you did it pretty seamlessly coming out as an 18-, 19-year-old on the brink of a Cup career. What were the pressures that were unique to you as a guy that young and the biggest challenges that you had to face at that age?
ATWOOD: Well, it's a little bit of pressure. I mean most of the pressure I get I put on myself. You have to give up a lot of your life to be successful in this sport. You've got to be willing to do that. I was willing to do whatever it took to be successful and I still am. I want to do whatever it takes to be a winner and a champion. But as far as my first year, everybody is kind of taking it easy on me. They're not putting a lot much pressure on me. I just put a lot on myself because I want to do good for everybody.
NATION: We have with Casey, Sammy Johns, the crew chief this week. What did you do to make this happen?
SAMMY JOHNS: I didn't do anything, the guys back in the shop and the engine room, they give us a real good race car to bring here. The motor was just awesome. Casey went out there and did a great job with his marks and did everything he needed to do. I'm just a small piece of the puzzle.
Casey, me again. When you made the deal with Dodge joining a pretty high-profile team in its first year here, did you feel a little bit like a first-round draft pick in some ways?
ATWOOD: A little bit. I mean, it was a pretty good transition for me. We done a lot of testing before this deal started. As soon as they announced that I was going to be driving, we started testing like every week immediately. So, you know, there's another couple other rookie drivers driving for Dodge, too. There's a lot of rookies driving Dodges and then there are some veterans, but we just kind of work together and try to make it the best for everybody.
Casey, Jeff Gordon recently said that he felt like winning here in '94 really helped launch his career. Can you kind of put into words what a win tomorrow would do for you psychologically and for your career?
ATWOOD: It would be really special for me to win anywhere, but especially here. I know everybody brings their best cars here. They bring everything they've got to Indy and try to win this race. So if we could do that, that would show we're really stepping our program up, our cars are really improving. It would be a big boost for everybody. If we could come out of here with a top ten, we would be happy.
Casey, tell us about your relationship with Bill Elliott and what kind of help he's been here at the Brickyard.
ATWOOD: He helped me a pretty good bit when we was here testing. You know, I had never been here before. He always runs good here. I know he finished third last year. I just ask questions everywhere we go that I don't know the track or I need help with the line or where to get on and off the gas. I can always go to him. He was able to pick me up a pretty good bit here just by talking to him and things like that. So he's been a good help for me.
Let me ask the obligatory Dodge question. What impact did the air-dam change have at all, and specifically compared to a couple weeks ago when you tested here?
ATWOOD: I couldn't tell a big difference by ourselves. I think that the new Dodge rule is going to help us a little bit in the race, hopefully. The Dodges have really been struggling in the race. Our qualifying stuff has been fine. We get in the race, we can be faster than people but we can't pass them because we get so tight behind them. Hopefully that's going to be where it's going to help us out. As far as out there by ourselves in qualifying runs, I didn't feel anything.
Casey, when Bill was in here a couple of minutes ago, he said that you had recently gained more confidence in yourself. Do you feel like with the good runs you've been feeling that way?
ATWOOD: Yeah. Any time you get good runs, it not only gives you more confidence, it boosts the whole team up. We've been getting that a lot lately. I mean, I'm a lot better driver than I was when we started this thing. I thought I was a little bit more ready than I really was when we first started this. I've had to change my driving style a little bit. So I feel like I'm getting ahold of it pretty well and I'm getting a lot more confidence in myself.
Sammy, what will you watch in happy hour with now having the new extra two inches on the front of the car since you didn't get to test in that? Everybody seems to say that it's not as big of a factor in qualifying, it will matter more in race setup.
JOHNS: We're just going to get out there and see if we can't get the car handling good for him. So far from what we've seen from it, it hasn't changed anything for us. We came here with the same setup that we tested with, we qualified with the same setup we tested with. So we're just going to have to wait and see what it brings us.
Does that surprise you, the same setup and you didn't change that much for qualifying -- (inaudible)?
JOHNS: Maybe a little bit. I was kind of expecting to have to make a few adjustments for it, but no real big surprise. I don't think it's a whole lot of help.
NATION: Casey, congratulations. Sammy, congratulations. Good luck tomorrow.