CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Atwood, like Leffler, is another Dodge driver competing for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in 2001. Atwood drives for car owner Ray Evernham and is veteran driver Bill Elliott's...
CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Atwood, like Leffler, is another Dodge driver competing for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in 2001. Atwood drives for car owner Ray Evernham and is veteran driver Bill Elliott's teammate. Atwood finished 30th at Talladega. He ranks 35th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings and is fourth in the six-driver rookie competition. Atwood finished 22nd last year in the Busch race at California Speedway. The 20-year-old Nashville, Tenn., driver has qualified for eight of nine events this season with a best finish of 18th at Rockingham, N.C.
"We tested at Michigan and hope that will help us for the California race. It rained most of the first day and we had wind gusts of 45 mph the second day, but we still got in some good practice. We're taking a new car to California, but it's the one we tested at Michigan. California is a horsepower track. More horsepower will help anywhere, but you've got to handle good at California, too. You've got to have the whole package.
"I think the Dodges are getting stronger and stronger. A Dodge has led every race this season, and it's just a matter of time until we win. We've only had nine races, and I wish we could have won one already, but I'm confident Dodge will win this year if not this week. "It's tough being a rookie out there. A lot of guys don't want to help a rookie, but a lot of times they don't have a choice. We were racing three-wide at Talladega most of the day, and just about all the rookies ran up front at one time or another, so they didn't have any choice but to work with them. Six rookies are running this year, and they're all with good teams. You usually don't have that many, but that's just the way it worked out this year.
"I had planned to stay in the Busch Series for five years and get experience. I had some offers to drive Winston Cup, but I really didn't listen to any of them until Ray Evernham came along. It might have helped if I had stayed in the Busch Series a little longer and got some more experience, but if Ray had gone after another driver, I probably would never have had a chance to drive for him again. I guess you'd say it was an offer I couldn't refuse.
"Ray and Bill help me out all they can. Ray has a lot of experience in racing, and I've learned a lot from him. If there's anything to ask about driving, I can go to Bill. He has more experience than I do everywhere, so it's convenient to ask him about any track. The biggest problem I've had is the length of the race, but I'm in decent shape and I'm only 20, so I haven't had a problem yet. It was hot at Talladega, and we were in the cars for a long time. I was pretty wore down after the race, but that was just because it was so hot.
"Bobby Hamilton and I are good friends, too. I fly to the races with Bobby. We both live near Nashville. He helped me get my first Busch ride. He's been working with me since I was 14. Little Bobby (Bobby Hamilton Jr.) and I are good friends. We used to be teammates in the Late Model Series, so I'm comfortable with them. I was glad to see Bobby win at Talladega.
"We had a good car at Talladega, but we got penalized for passing below the yellow line. I was passing the 40 car on the inside for second. He came down to block, and my left-side tires went under the yellow line. There's nothing I could have done. I could have kept going straight and wrecked. I don't understand the call at all. We had a good call. We could go to the front anytime, but we got a 15-second penalty and the race went green all the way, so we couldn't make it up.
"You can't dwell on things like that. We'll just try to learn from our mistakes and do better the next time around at all these tracks. We only get one shot at California, so we'll have to make it count. It's one of the nicest facilities we go to, and I really enjoy racing there. Dodge's last Winston Cup win came in 1977 in Ontario, Calif., and that's not too far from Fontana. California Speedway would be a great place to put Dodge back in the winner's circle. We've won a couple of poles this season. Now it's time to win a race."