Elliott and Atwood Hope Long Wait Pays Off at End of Long Day CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May 17, 2001) - For the drivers of Evernham Motorsports, the wait for the first victory has been a bit longer than expected, but hopes are high the waiting will end...
Elliott and Atwood Hope Long Wait Pays Off at End of Long Day
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May 17, 2001) - For the drivers of Evernham Motorsports, the wait for the first victory has been a bit longer than expected, but hopes are high the waiting will end next Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600.
Lowe's Motor Speedway has long been a favorite and successful track for team owner Ray Evernham and veteran driver Bill Elliott. Rookie Casey Atwood hasn't had as much experience on the 1.5 mile oval, but has run well as similar tracks such as Las Vegas and Texas.
Elliott, driving the No. 9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T, goes to Charlotte 14th in the points standings, with one pole, one top five and five top-15 finishes for the season. Last year, he started third in the Coca-Cola 600 and led several laps, but engine trouble sent him to the garage on lap 122. In 48 starts at the track, he has collected two wins, four poles and 21 top-10 finishes.
"The Coca Cola 600 is a good event," said Elliott. "I've run there well in the past, but haven't capitalized on it. We've had some good runs there the last several years. Lowe's Motor Speedway isn't a bad place if you can get hooked up. I qualified second or third there last year, but had engine trouble. That's the biggest concern there. Having to run 600 miles can tell the tale. About the last 100 laps you're going see engines going."
Ray Evernham also knows a thing or two about success at the Lowe's Motor Speedway. As crew chief for the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team, he won four times, set the track record for qualifying and took the pole for five straight Coca-Cola 600s. He took his new team to the track last week to translate his experience and learning to the setup of the new Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T, and help his rookie driver get more familiar with the track.
"I'm looking forward to running under the lights at Charlotte for the first time," said Atwood. "I'm a big fan of night races. I've never really had any success at Charlotte. I wasn't good here in Busch. But Ray really likes to come to Charlotte. He has good setups here and it's one of his best tracks. It's going to be tough here to stay out of trouble for 600 miles. I just want to get up front and have a good finish. It's a long race, and that's a big difference from Busch. I've never driven a car for that long. I'm trying to eat right and drink lots of water and stay away from junk to get ready. There's not much else you can do."
Atwood, who took top rookie honors at both Bristol and Richmond this year, is 35th in the standings and fourth in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race. He has one top 10 and two top-15 starts, and his highest finish this season is 12th at Richmond.
Both Elliott and Atwood said the 2001 season hasn't brought too many surprises yet, but hope a victory is just around the corner. "There really haven't been any surprises," said Elliott. "After 25 years in this business, nothing really surprises me anymore. I hadn't thought what to expect this year. The car has performed okay. In some ways, we're above where I thought we'd be. But, I wish we'd done better. You look around and other teams that have been around for a while have struggled. It's harder and harder to build one of these deals. It's a bigger struggle each year.
"I really had no expectations," he added. "We started with a clean sheet of paper. We had to build a new engine. We had to build a race team. Nobody knew what it was all about. We've had our ups and downs. But all in all, I guess we're okay."
Atwood agrees, but said it has been tougher than he expected. "There really haven't been any surprises so far," said Atwood. "It's been tough. I expected it to be tough, but it's been a little tougher than I thought. I've had a pretty good season, but with a new team and new people, it's hard. Our goal was the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. We had a shot at the beginning of the season. But the competition's been a lot tougher this year. But there are still a lot of races this year. The whole deal is lots of fun. I'm 20 years old and I'm doing what I love for a living.
"It's not just about competing against the six or so rookies out there," he noted. "I've got to drive against 43 guys every week. If you've got consistent finishes every week, the Rookie of the Year thing will take care of itself. We've just got to get those consistent finishes. I don't get a lot of pressure from Ray or Bill. I do put a lot of pressure on myself to do the best I can. I know I'm not going to be successful right off the bat. But I want to do good out there."