Iracingone On One:/I Casey Atwood

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(The rate of Casey Atwood’s rise through the NASCAR ranks has been phenomenal. After two years in the Busch Series, Atwood was offered the chance to be the driver of Ray Evernham’s No. 19 Dodge Intrepid in the Winston Cup Series as a rookie in 2001. He’s gone through some ups and downs so far, but is handling it with the poise of a veteran.)

RacingOne: You’re a Winston Cup driver at the age of 20, you’re driving for Ray Evernham, and the media attention you get is pretty steady. Is that just too overwhelming?

Atwood: Yeah, it’s a bit overwhelming. I’m only 20 and I’m driving for Ray Evernham with Dodge. It’s pretty big where I’m at and I’m slowly realizing that. I really haven’t achieved that much so far during my career. I really don’t know why I’ve been given these opportunities. I won two Busch races and that probably caught the eye of a couple of people, but I’m just very thankful for who I’m with. I can learn a lot here and win some races.

RacingOne: Your rise through the NASCAR ranks has been meteoric. Does it surprise even you at how fast things have gone?

Atwood: I only raced Busch for two years, and I had some good seasons. I’m just thankful to Ray. Anybody in this garage area, I believe, would have quit their job to come over and work for Ray. I’m just honored to be the one that was chosen to do it. I just want to make the best of it. I just want to do my job the best I can do it and I know that’s to win races for these guys and maybe championships one day.

RacingOne: You failed to qualify for the race at Atlanta. Was that the last thing you and this team expected to happen?

Atwood: We knew it was a possibility. When you come into a situation like that and you’ve got no points to rely on, you’re going to go home if you’re not fast enough. It was certainly the last thing we wanted to happen. But there’s nothing you can do about it now. We’re only worried about what’s happening now and what will happen in the weeks ahead of us. We’ve put it behind us. If we’re able to put together some good runs, nobody will even remember that.

RacingOne: You won rookie-of-the-year honors at Nashville Speedway USA in 1996 at the age of 16. There had to be drivers who were a lot older than you were, so how did they treat you after coming in and being so successful?

Atwood: They were fine. I was a bit nervous when I first started racing there. I had been watching races there for years. I went to the races every Saturday night and I knew most of the drivers and the people around the track by name and face. I was nervous, but everybody treated me very well. I’ve always gotten along well with everybody I’ve raced with and never had a problem with them. I don’t expect to have any problems in Winston Cup, either.

RacingOne: In only your second Busch race, you won a pole at Nashville. How thrilling was that for you?

Atwood: It was pretty important. I really feel like that was the race that got me going. I’ve had a ton of people that I don’t even know, a lot of important people in this garage area, tell me they saw me run that race back in 1998. When you run well like that, it really catches the eye of people, and that was really the race that got my career going. It caught the eye of Clarence Brewer at Brewco, and they gave me a ride soon after.

RacingOne: Were there too many expectations of you in the Busch Series? Some people have said you didn’t really live up to your potential at Brewco Motorsports after all the hype surrounding you early in your career.

Atwood: That’s a good question. I had some good runs before I went there to Brewco Motorsports. I finished second a couple of times and we were proud of that. I don’t think we did too badly at Brewco, really. We had a chance to win at Daytona in our very first race and got flipped around. We ended up winning two races that season. Our first year was about as good as it could possibly be. We had some big expectations for the second year because we thought we could go out and win a championship. Things just didn’t work out. The big problem over there is that the shop is in Central City, Ky., and you can’t really get good help. Almost everybody is based in Charlotte, and it’s hard to get people that are knowledgeable about racing to move to someplace like that. They’ve got a great program, though, and they’re going to continue to be successful.

RacingOne: What was your very first thought when Ray Evernham approached you about driving one of his Winston Cup cars and being a part of Dodge’s re-entry into the series?

Atwood: I couldn’t believe it. He was asking me if I wanted to, and I thought that was a pretty stupid question. There was no doubt whatsoever I wanted to come and drive for him. He came and saw me a couple of times at the track, and then he came to my house. He flew in to offer me the job. It was just a no-brainer for me to go with him. There isn’t anything in racing he doesn’t know. He was by far the best crew chief out there when he was with Jeff Gordon. He’s going to help me out tremendously. We’ve got a good, successful team here, and it’s going to be competitive.

RacingOne: Word has it that you and teammate Bill (Elliott) get along great and that you’re able to joke with each other all the time. Can you describe your relationship with him?

Atwood: He’s fun to be around, but he’s very knowledgeable about all of the tracks. He’s been around here so many years, and there are tricks to every track, things he can tell me and let me know without me having to search all day during practice to find it. If I ever have questions or comments about my car, I can always go to him and he’ll tell me what he knows and what he’s learned over the years. That’s pretty big for someone like me who doesn’t know much about some of the tracks we go to.

RacingOne: You’ve got a special attachment to your hometown area of Nashville. You still live there, but do you ever think there will come a time when you’ll go somewhere else?

Atwood: I hope not. I don’t think I’ll ever have to. It’s the only place I’ve ever been and it’s where my family is. That’s what’s most important to me. I’m probably just going to stay there.

RacingOne: You race for fun, but as a relative youngster, what else do you do for fun away from the track?

Atwood: This (racing) is about it. You’re only home about two days a week and I really don’t do anything while I’m at home. All I do is sit back and relax and get ready for the next weekend. I’m trying to take up golf, and it’s fun. It’s fun to go out with your friends and play, but I wouldn’t call myself a golfer. I’m getting better and better each time I go out, so I’m trying. I’m never going to be great at it because I don’t have the time, but I’m sure I can work at it a bit and become good enough to beat all of my friends. That’s all I’d ever want to do.

RacingOne: Some people in the media have described you as “stand-offish.” Are you uncomfortable with microphones and tape recorders in your face all the time?

Atwood: I guess that’s just because I’m quiet. I’m not really an outgoing person. I’m getting better. When I first had to start dealing with the media, I would just answer “yes” and “no” to questions, and that’s it. I’m just shy when I’m around people I don’t know. Until I get to know you, I just don’t talk a lot.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001, Casey Atwood

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