CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Atwood, a 21-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year competitor from Nashville, Tenn., has moved from 33rd to 25th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings in the last four races with...
CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Atwood, a 21-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year competitor from Nashville, Tenn., has moved from 33rd to 25th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings in the last four races with finishes of 14th, 20th, third and 20th. During that stretch he's qualified on the pole at Phoenix, third at Rockingham, second at Homestead and 22nd last week at Atlanta. Atwood started 27th and finished 12th earlier this season at New Hampshire. He lost a lap, made it back and eventually led 13 laps of the 300-lap race. Atwood will start 31st in Friday's race, his last one as a Raybestos rookie.
"We lost a lap in the pits last time at New Hampshire and made it up on the track. I've had two Busch Grand National starts at New Hampshire, and I've always run well there. I guess it's because it's a flat track and I always seem to run well on the flat tracks. I didn't come up liking the flat tracks. Really, they're hard to race on. It's really not that I like 'em, I just always seem to run well on 'em. It's hard to get the car set up for a flat track, and if you're going to run well, you've got to have the car set up better on a flat track than you do a banked track. "The team has been giving me great cars on the flat tracks. I think we had a top five car at New Hampshire last time if we hadn't lost that lap. I definitely think we had a top 10 car. I don't know what to expect up there this time. I really don't. I don't think anybody does. At least it's a one-day show, if the weather cooperates. I'm really thankful for that. We can go up there and get it over with and hopefully have a good run to close the season. "Practice on Friday morning is really early, and there's hardly enough time to do anything in practice. The cars that are starting back in the points won't get but about 15 minutes practice. We'll probably put the same setup in the car that we had last time. We're taking a different car. It's the Dodge I won the pole with at Phoenix, and I really like that car. "We had a good run last Sunday at Atlanta, but the finish wasn't that great. We still managed to move up to 25th in the standings, and that's our goal Sunday at New Hampshire. We want to stay there. We're seven points ahead of Robert Pressley, so we've got to beat him. Kurt Busch is only 36 points behind us, so we've got to watch out for him, too. We've really been pumped up with the way things have been going the last four or five races. I've got more confidence now, and I really enjoy working with Sammy (crew chief Johns). "I feel like we started taking off when Sammy came on with us the second half of the season. We started qualifying better. We couldn't capitalize in the races right away, but that came with more experience. We got a lap down early at Atlanta, but we ran with the top 10 all day except that one run. We were passing the seventh and eighth place cars. We were a lap down, but it didn't matter. It felt good. "Passing at Loudon might not be that easy. Goodyear is bringing a softer tire because the track is going to be so cold. A harder tire wouldn't be able to hook up to the track, and a softer tire should have more grip. It's hard to get a tire to grip the track at Loudon anyway. "We're going to fly up Thursday night with Bobby Hamilton, so at least I'll get to have part of Thanksgiving at home. I'm sure if I had to take a commercial flight I would have to leave earlier. Bobby has made traveling a lot easier on me all season. I fly with him out of Nashville to the races, and he's been a great friend. We've been friends since I was driving four cylinder cars. He's helped me work on my cars, and I've kept some of my cars at his shop. I don't know why he's helped me like that, but he's been like a big brother to me. I drove a truck for him once at Nashville. It was a deal he put together with my dad, but I didn't do so good. It was back in '97, and I wrecked it in the race. But Bobby has helped me all season, just like Bill (teammate Elliott). They've both stuck with me through the ups and downs. "I'd say the highlights of the season for me were the pole at Phoenix and the way we ran at Homestead. I've won a pole every year I've been racing, so it was great to keep that streak going at Phoenix. We had a chance to win the race at Homestead and probably would have if it hadn't been for that last caution. After struggling the first half of the season, that really helped lift us up. "I've been pumped up the last few races, and I expect that to carry over to next year. Ray (team owner Evernham) has supported us 100 percent. I think we've finally got the Dodge figured out, and I think we've got the tire figured out, too. It took a long time to figure out the tires, and some teams still haven't. "Dodge has come a long way this season. Our Dodge motors run real good now, and we can battle with all the top teams. The bodies are better, and all the wind tunnel time with Dodge has really helped. We've got some more ground to gain, but that's encouraging, too. "We'll go to New Hampshire and give it our best shot. The bad thing about it is we're starting 31st, and it's going to be really hard to get to the front. I wish we could qualify, but that's not going to happen, so we've got to come up with some pit strategy that'll help us get to the front. It's always hard to pass at New Hampshire, and it's going to be even tougher this time. Maybe we'll take two tires or no tires on our first pit stop and try to get some track position. We'll have to wait and see if that's possible or not, but it's going to be real hard to pass 30 cars on the track. "We'd really like to keep that 25th place spot in the standings. We about a hundred points out of 24th, so that's probably out of reach, but 25th in the standings with a pole in your rookie season on the Winston Cup Circuit doesn't sound too bad. We'd take that and try to come out smoking next season. I'm really excited about next year. I'm not worried about that sophomore jinx or anything like that. If that win doesn't come Sunday at Loudon, we'll be shooting for it early next season and try to finish as high as we can in the standings. I feel like I get more confident with the more seat time I get. We'll take a few weeks off and then get ready to do it again in 2002.