Motorsport News

What if Casey Atwood Had Said Yes?

NASCAR diver Casey Atwood

Note: ‘What if’ is a question we’ll never be able to truly answer. It’s simply about looking at the sport with new eyes, seeing what might have been. There are too many variables to know for sure just how history would have been altered, so many possibilities. Change any one of them, and the outcome could be vastly different. Speculation here is just that, based on what actually happened and what might have happened if one thing had been different.

The late 1990s in NASCAR held a lot of promise, as a number of young drivers were entering the picture on the heels of Jeff Gordon, who entered the NASCAR Cup Series younger than most drivers at the time and was a champion within three seasons. Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have had the biggest name among the new wave of youngsters, but there was plenty of young talent to be had. 

Entering the new millennium, no young driver was a hotter commodity than a Tennessee teenager named Casey Atwood. In 1998, Atwood became the youngest pole winner in NASCAR history at age 17, posting the fastest qualifying lap at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. His record still stands in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. 

After winning a pair of races for Brewco Motorsports in 1999, Atwood was already drawing comparisons to Gordon, then a three-time Cup champion.

And, accordingly, the big time came calling. With new sponsor AC Delco on board for the 2000 Xfinity (then Busch Series) season, Richard Childress Racing was in the hunt for a driver to develop with the eventual goal of building a third Cup team around him.

Childress called Atwood.

Atwood flew to North Carolina to discuss the opportunity with Childress. A painfully shy 19-year-old, Atwood was overwhelmed with the offer. Comfortable with his Brewco team and coming off a solid season, Atwood did the unthinkable.

He declined the ride.

You know the rest of the story. Kevin Harvick got the call instead and, in 2000, won three races and finished third in the standings. Atwood finished eighth in the standings with Brewco in 2000 and was tapped for a brand-new Cup ride with Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham’s new operation spearheading the return of Chrysler to the sport in 2001. Atwood was paired with veteran Bill Elliott

Elliott won once that year. Atwood struggled but really wasn’t much worse than Elliott overall in terms of average finish. But pressure to bring Dodge to…

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