CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Atwood failed to qualify for last week's Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, rookie Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta, took over the Raybestos rookie of the...
CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Atwood failed to qualify for last week's Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, rookie Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta, took over the Raybestos rookie of the year points lead and Atwood dropped from second to fifth in the rookie race. Atwood, a 20-year-old driver from Nashville, Tenn., plans to test Tuesday and Wednesday at Bristol Motor Speedway with the Ray Evernham Motorsports Dodge team before heading to Darlington for Sunday's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race.
"It was a big disappointment not qualifying at Atlanta," Atwood said. "We really wanted to qualify for all four of the first four races. We almost did it but not quite. We can't hang our heads and dwell on it. It's not the end of the world. We had planned to test at Atlanta on Monday and Tuesday after Rockingham, but Rockingham got rained out on Sunday and we had to race there Monday, so we didn't get to test at Atlanta. I think that was a big part of our problem. We had tested at all the other tracks, but we had a new car at Atlanta and we just didn't get the job done.
"I didn't watch the race yesterday. I played golf. I had a lot of fun doing that, and it kind of got my mind off missing the race. I'm not any good at golf. I don't get to play that often, but it's fun and I enjoy playing every now and then.
"I think it's pretty cool that a rookie won at Atlanta. It's impressive that a guy wins in only his third start. That just has to give all the other rookies more confidence. I know I can do this. Kevin might have a little advantage because he's racing with an established team with a lot of great people. We've got a new team, but I didn't to miss qualifying for a race.
"Before last weekend, I thought we were right on schedule. We've just got to keep working hard to make things better. I've been in a situation before when I didn't qualify for a race (1999 in a Busch race at Las Vegas). I knew it would be different in Winston Cup. It's a lot more competitive, but I've got a lot of people who I can turn to for advice. I fly a lot to the races with (fellow Tennessee driver) Bobby Hamilton, and I can always ask my teammate Bill Elliott to help out. That's a lot of experience to draw from."
DID YOU SEE ELLIOTT WIN WINSTON MILLION AT DARLINGTON IN '85?
"No, I was only five years old. I probably didn't start watching until I was about eight. I know that must have been a dream season for Bill. Not many people have had years like that, but it gives you something to shoot for."
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU EXPECTING AT DARLINGTON AND BRISTOL?
"We've got a couple of tough races coming up at Darlington and Bristol, and it's going to be tough qualifying for both of those. I've always liked Bristol, and I've done pretty well there in the Busch cars. It's a hectic race, and you just try to stay out of trouble. I'm sure we'll learn a lot testing up there if it doesn't rain us out.
"Darlington is a tough track, too, and I haven't done that well there in the Busch cars. Ray (car owner Evernham) says it's one of his favorite tracks, and he's got a good setup for Darlington, so we're anxious to get there in our Dodge and see what we can do. Darlington is a lot like Rockingham. It really eats the tires, so we'll have to be ready for that.
"Qualifying at Darlington is the same as most places, but the race is different. You have to be cautious. When you pit and get new tires, you're about two seconds a lap faster than guys on the old tires. It helps anywhere when you save the tires, but it really helps at Darlington. You just can't run that hard on the fresh tires. If you do, they won't be fresh long."
WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT ADJUSTMENT FOR YOU IN CUP?
"I'm really comfortable in these Winston Cup cars now. I think they really drive better than the Busch cars. I guess the length of the race is what I'm having to get used to, and I've also got to learn to save the car so we'll have something to race at the end of the day. My best Cup race was 10th last year at Homestead -- that was my best finish anyway. I think our best run was this year's Daytona 500. We had a great car, but we broke a right front shock and that cost us a good finish."
IS WINNING THE ROOKIE TITLE STILL A MAJOR GOAL?
"I'm sure missing a race didn't help, but I think we're definitely still in it. I'd say Harvick is probably the favorite right now. Hornaday and Kurt Busch have been running well, too. It's going to be tough. With six rookies going at it every week, who knows what might happen. We know we've got a long way to go, but we know we've got a lot of potential with this Dodge. We'll get there. You really can't put a time limit on it, but we know we'll get there. Ray really knows how to motivate people, and he does a good job of keeping everybody on this team pumped up. We're a young team all the way around, and we're going to make mistakes, but we're going to learn together and grow together and hopefully some day soon we'll win together. This stuff isn't easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it."
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT RACING?
"I just like to relax and do nothing really. We don't have a lot of down time. I've got a computer I play on some, and I like to sleep late. I slept to 10:30 this morning. We have to get to the track so early when we're racing, that I like to sleep late when I can. I've been racing since I was 10, and it's always been fun for me. It's still fun. You have the same goals and objective even though you're in Winston Cup and you're a Winston Cup rookie. You don't go to the track to run third or fifth. You go to win, but I think it's a little unrealistic to expect a rookie to win. You don't want to set your goals too high. You want to set goals that are attainable. You know the best drivers in the world are in Winston Cup, and some of them have been doing it for a long time. A rookie, I don't think, is really expected to come in and take over. I realize there have been some good rookie drivers the last few years, and I think we've got a talented group of rookies this year. I'm just happy to be a part of it. If you beat the other rookies, you've done a good job. If you beat the veterans, you've done a great job. Kevin Harvick did a great job Sunday. That's what we'll all be trying to do now." -Mopar