CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger)
COMMENT ON YOUR SEASON SO FAR "So far it's going well. It's just kind of a breath of fresh air really from previous years. We've had good performances and good finishes, but what a way to start off the year with a second at Daytona and another top 10 at California. I couldn't be more excited about coming to Vegas. This is a place we usually run well at. The test went well. The team has its head up a little bit because we started off the season so well. It's good because we're showing our true potential this year and hopefully we can continue that throughout the year."
YOU'VE HAD SEVEN TOP 10S IN YOUR LAST 11 STARTS. WHAT TURNED IT AROUND FOR YOU? "We really had a string of bad luck in the middle of last season. We started off the season halfway decent, but in the middle of the year we had a lot of weird things happen -- parts breaking and issues that don't normally happen within a team. It got us down at points and got us off the radar of attention. Toward the end of the year we just started putting together those races that fell apart earlier in the year. Not a lot of things changed. We just started getting the finishes we should have had in mid-season if it hadn't been for the bad luck."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT LVMS BEING RECONNFIGURED AFTER THIS RACE? "I haven't really thought about it a whole lot. The things they're talking about doing sound great. Obviously it's going to be more fan friendly. On the other hand they've also taken the competitive aspect into their thoughts on what they're doing to the track. From what I hear they're going to narrow it up a little bit, get pit road closer to the grandstands so the fans can see the action on pit road. I really like this track the way it is. I've always enjoyed it the way it is, but I'm sure it's going to be a racier racetrack when they're done with a lot of the things they're talking about doing."
DID YOU RACE A LOT IN THE DESERT? "I didn't do a lot of desert racing. I did a lot of the Mickey Thompson off-road stuff. I actually raced here at the college stadium, Sam Boyd Stadium. We did the Mickey Thompson off-road races there. I've been coming here to Vegas since I was a little kid, obviously with my dad racing in the desert in off-road races. I've spent a lot of time out this way. Circus Circus was my friend when I was about five years old."
WAS THERE EVER A POINT LAST YEAR WHEN YOU DIDN'T KNOW IF YOU WOULD BE BACK WITH THE GANASSI-SABATES TEAM? "Sure, every year when there's an option on you, you don't know exactly what's going to happen the following year. That's pretty typical of any contract structured that way. There was a time there that I wondered what was going to happen or exactly how it was going to go down. Obviously a few things happened toward the end of the year that put me in the seat I'm in now. I feel fortunate to be where I'm at. I'm really happy to be a part of the Texaco/Havoline team and working with Donnie (crew chief Wingo) this year. It's been a lot of fun so far. However it all played out I'm really not too worried about. I'm happy where I am now. We've just got to focus on this year and make it the best year we can. Last year, we ran like we did this year. We really did at a lot of places and just didn't get the results we deserved for whatever reason. I've got a long list of those, but I just feel fortunate now I'm able to showcase what the team is capable of and what I'm capable of doing."
WOULD IT HELP TO PUT MORE BANKING IN AT CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY? "I believe so. I think the track has really widened out, but the track is so flat that it's become a real momentum track. You see one guy get bottled up and two guys will go by him. You've really got to keep your momentum up. When you get gradual banking in the track it tends to help you recover a little faster if you make a mistake. It's not as momentum based as California is and I think that gives you more options as a driver. I think at California, guys get forced in running the top or running other areas just because that's the only place their car will work. Gradual banking at some of the places we go to right now, you can pick your line based on where the car is in front of you. I think what makes the racing like it is now at California, these cars are fairly aero dependent right now on handling. When there's one particular line that is the best, it's hard to pass. We'll see how it goes. It'll be interesting to see what they do in the future, but I think everybody is getting more knowledgeable. Track owners, drivers and teams are getting more knowledgeable about what it takes to make a fast racetrack and a track that makes a race exciting to watch, so hopefully they'll go in the right direction."
WHAT'S YOUR LEARNING CURVE LIKE NOW? "I think there's always a lot to learn. I think my learning curve now is more about details than the basics. The last two or three years I've been learning a lot of the basics. It's funny because at the end of every year I think I'm so much further ahead than I was the year before. I'm learning and understanding what these cars are all about and the tracks and just the way the stock cars and NASCAR runs in general. I think if you don't finish each year realizing you're a better driver or you've learned more, then you're not paying attention enough. You're always going to learn in racing. Racing is constantly changing. You've got to keep up with it. My learning curve is a lot more like this (angled) than it is like this (vertical) like it was the first couple of years."
COMMENT ON THE AERO ISSUES WITH THE CHARGER "I think by no means is it resolved, but I think we've narrowed in on it for sure. There are some issues we're currently dealing with that we're probably going to be dealing with the rest of the year. We're set in stone on running the Charger for the remainder of the year. If we see any huge improvement or huge differences in the Intrepid that's a big advantage over what we're doing, we might try it, but we're pretty confident in the Charger at this point. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes with a lot of different teams right now trying to figure out what we're going to do, but there are other issues as well. What's going to be the car for next year? They're talking about the car of tomorrow and they've released the schedule now on what we're going to do with that car. All kind of things are going on. There's development of the car of tomorrow, development with the Charger. If you bring an Intrepid into the mix, you're developing three racecars, which really spreads your resources thin. We're just focused on the Charger at this point."
WAS THERE A DODGE GROUP TEST LAST WEEK? "Not that I'm aware of. I was in Aspen."
HOW DOES GANASSI-SABATES RACING STACK UP AGAINST THE TOP NASCAR NEXTEL CUP TEAMS? I think we're a lot further ahead than we've ever been at Ganassi Racing. The first year that I got there, Jamie (McMurray) and I were new at that time. There was a brand new third team. We were in the old shop. I think at this point from the time I started at Ganassi Racing until now we're way further ahead and more prepared to go racing than we ever have been. Reed (Sorenson) and David (Stremme) are in a lot better position than Jamie and I were when we came in the organization just because the organization is that much better than when we started, and I'm excited. We just opened a new engine shop. The team is finally getting very organized with all the basic stuff you need to be competitive week in and week out. That structure is there now. As soon as our engine shop gets established and up and running, there's still a lot of room to grow, but I think the organization is the best it's ever been at this point."
HOW DO YOU LIKE RACING AT ATLANTA? DO YOU EVER GO TO DOWNTOWN ATLANTA WHERE YOU'RE THERE TO RACE? "First of all the racetrack is a blast. I love running about the top at Atlanta. There are very few tracks that are that fun to run at the top at. That's one of the tracks that give you a lot of options as a driver to make your car work. I've always enjoyed it. As far as downtown, I can't comment because I haven't really been downtown a whole lot. I usually stay at the track. I'll leave those comments to Felix (Sabates) I guess."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CAR OF TOMORROW? "My first impressions were 'wow, it looks boxy.' It just doesn't look as racy as the car we have now. The reason for going in that direction is safety. I think it's a good direction safety wise. I haven't had enough experience yet, enough to know if it's a car that's going to be enjoyable to drive. I haven't driven it yet. From a lot of the things they're talking about, they're trying to improve safety. They're trying to make the drivers' area safer. It looks funny at first because you're not used to it, but it's the same with anything. When new cars come out you see new cars on the street and you think 'that thing's weird looking.' Two years down the road it's a standard and everybody likes it. We'll just have to see how it goes."
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT RUNNING THE '04 DODGE? "We entertained it a long time ago, early one we entertained that. For some reason or another it never really came into play. Right now I know Evernham and Penske are flirting with that right now. We're working hard on the Charger right now. We think there's still room for development. In our minds we know there's something that's missing there. We still need to work at it to be comparable with some of the guys that are more consistent right now. We thought about it, but at the end of the day we decided to stay with the Charger."
DO YOU LOOK AT THE POINT STANDINGS NOW? "If you look at it, you think it's great. We're at the top of the points sheet right now and that's a good thing, but obviously it's real early in the year and anything can happen. Things can change a lot, but that's where we come into play. I think our team has stepped up to the plate a little better this year. I think we can come out with consistent top 10s and top fives if we do our job right and at the end of the day we won't have to look at the points sheet because you guys will keep asking me about it I hope."
DO YOU SKI? "Snowboard. I haven't been in about five years. When I lived out in California I went a couple of times. Ever since I moved to North Carolina it seems like I've been so busy and things are so hectic you don't make plans to go. I went with a few good friends of mine and had a blast this off weekend. We got away a little bit. It's always good to get away from racing a little bit even though the season has just started, but it's good to get away. I'm so excited to get back in the racecar now, but just to have a few days not to think about it and come back and be ready for this weekend."
HAVE YOUR FANS CHANGED? "The fans changed right away. It's really crazy. I wish everybody could see all my fans because my fans seem to be really good people. I don't have a lot of crazies. Everybody is really cool on my website. They always do cool things for me on my birthday and on special days like that. I have seen a rush of new fans that have always been Davey Allison fans, Ricky Rudd fans and all those guys in the past. Now that Ricky Rudd retired last year, all those guys that followed him in the Texaco/Havoline car have followed over to me, which is great. I really enjoy that."
MEARS WILL CELEBRATE HIS 28TH BIRTHDAY ON SUNDAY "I think everybody knows what I want for my birthday. I'm going to knock on wood. Having a win here at Vegas would be a great birthday present. I know we can get the job done. We've just got to focus on not doing anything wrong."