Atwood’s story a cautionary tale for young phenoms
Not all NASCAR phenoms turn out to be all they are hyped to be. And the ultimate example of that is Casey Atwood. Atwood debuted in Nashville as a teenager back in the late 1990s and was hyped as a future Jeff Gordon type superstar. Um, that didn’t quite happen, despite Atwood’s quick ascent into a quality Cup ride with Evernham Motorsports, and he faded into obscurity fast. The young driver found himself out of the Cup series completely after 2003, and 2004 was the last season he was remotely competitive in the Nationwide series. (Fun fact: The driver who replaced him in Evernham’s #19 car, effectively ending his Cup career, was – Jeremy Mayfield)
Now he’s 31 years old, and had stepped away from racing completely for three years after being relegated to start-and-park rides. This weekend, he got back in the saddle again, and drove a late model this past weekend at the season opener at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway, in a car prepared by NASCAR legend Sterling Marlin.
Atwood, who now is married and has two young kids, said that he will always have the urge to race, but it’s pretty obvious at this point that he’s not coming back to Cup anytime soon.
His crash and burn at such a young age is a lesson for all young phenoms in the sport today: And that lesson is ‘Don’t rush it’. Atwood himself has said that his path to Cup should have been slower, and that he should have stuck in the Nationwide series for a couple more years to truly develop as a driver and better prepare himself for what awaited in the high-pressure level of Cup racing.
Other young phenoms like Joey Logano are now seeing how hard it is to have great results in Cup at such a young age, when you’re racing against the very best. Logano’s story is not as dramatic as Atwood’s, as he has the full support of Joe Gibbs and has already been to Victory Lane in Cup, but he must be feeling pressure on some level to live up to his phenom status and achieve more definitive success at the Cup level – and if he doesn’t do that, will he be called a failure?
Probably, and while it might not be fair, it’s the reality of the sport for these young superstars who every expects to win early and often in their Cup careers. The reality is: Most of the time, it doesn’t work out.