WOODY: Atwood Gets Back On Track
Nashville’s Casey Atwood, once billed as NASCAR’s next Jeff Gordon, is back where he started over a decade ago: running Saturday night fender-benders at Fairgrounds Speedway.
“I haven’t been in a race car for about three years now, and I’ve missed it,” says Atwood, 31, who will buckle in for Saturday night’s season opener at the 54-year-old track.
“I’ve always loved racing, and especially enjoyed it at the Fairgrounds. I’ve had a lot of success there, and it’ll be good to get back.”
Atwood will drive a car provided by two-time Daytona 500 champion Sterling Marlin, who will also be in the lineup.
Track promoter Tony Formosa Jr. says familiar names like Atwood and Marlin will appeal to area fans and hopefully set the turnstiles spinning again.
“Our goal is to bring racing back to the level that it once was,” Formosa says, “and it all starts with the drivers.”
When Atwood was racing in NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series he was sizzling. Personable, charismatic and talented, Casey became the sport’s youngest pole winner when he captured the pole for a Nationwide race at the Fairgrounds in 1998. He came back and won the pole again the following season.
In 2000 Atwood was signed by Ray Evernham to be a teammate of superstar Bill Elliott, driving the new Dodges that were re-entering the sport. Atwood ran a few Cup races at the end of 2000, then plunged in full-time the next year.
In that 2001 season he came close to winning at least two races, losing one late lead due to a blown tire and another when a caution came out 10 laps to go. The next year Evernham decided to put Jeremy Mayfield in Atwood’s primary car and move Atwood to a backup – a move that effectively de-railed his career.
Atwood has always refused to fault Evernham for his career setback.
“Looking back there were a lot of things that happened,” Atwood says. “I should have stayed in Nationwide another year or two and got more experience before going to Cup. There were some things that I could have done better (in terms of decision-making). But that’s all in the past and it doesn’t do any good to look back. I don’t blame anybody for what happened.”
Atwood is married and the father of two daughters, six and four. He spends his time “piddling around” and occasionally helping his father Terry with his electronics company.
The last time he was in a race car was in 2009 when he helped set up Nationwide cars for some Cup double-dippers at now-closed Nashville Superspeedway.
“It’ll feel good to get back out on the track,” says Atwood, who holds out hope of racing again professionally. “I started racing karts as a little kid and I’ve never got it out of my system. I don’t guess I ever will.”
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments