NOTE: Mears ranks 10th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Standings after the first seven races in 2006. At the same stage of the 2005 campaign he was 17th. Mears trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 218 points and is 14 points out of ninth place. Mears, senior...
NOTE: Mears ranks 10th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Standings after the first seven races in 2006. At the same stage of the 2005 campaign he was 17th. Mears trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 218 points and is 14 points out of ninth place. Mears, senior driver for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, will make career start No. 116 next week at Phoenix. Mears talks about the season and his thoughts after the first day of testing on Tuesday at Richmond International Raceway.
CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco Havoline Dodge Charger)
"We're just trying a lot of different things right now. We're going back and forth on the speed chart. We kinda got lost a little bit and found out the sway bar was bound up. That was throwing us off a little bit, and that threw us off for a little while, but earlier in the morning and leading up to lunch I felt like we had a pretty good racecar. We kept chipping away at it and getting a little better. We're fighting a tight condition right now, and the track is getting tighter. This test is a great opportunity with all the cars being here because the track is getting rubbered up just like it will on a race weekend. A lot of times you come to a test and you feel like you've got a pretty good car, you've done a pretty good job and you've made the right calls. Then you come back for the race and it's nothing like what the test was like. I think the conditions here are really going to be representative of what the race is like, and especially getting to do some nighttime running is going to be good. We've still got some catching up to do. We've got to figure out how to free up the car, and I'm anxious to see what the nighttime conditions are going to be like."
WHAT HAPPENED AT TEXAS? "We just didn't run good. I don't know what we're missing right now. We keep going to places where we typically run good and we're struggling right now. Atlanta was one of 'em. I feel like we had a car that could have run in the top 10 at Texas, but we kept losing spots when we came into the pits. We kinda had a bad day in the pits. Track position was crucial. If you had a good car you could pass. If you had a car that could mediocre you could maybe hang where you started and pick off one or two guys. That's how we were. If we could have maintained that track position I think we could have creeped inside the top 10 and had a decent finish. We ran with Kevin Harvick pretty much all day long and he finished fifth. I don't know if he took two tires at the end, but we had opportunities to finish inside the top 10, but between losing the spots on pit road and just not having a very fast racecar we ended up 14th."
IS IT FRUSTRATING THAT YOU HAVEN'T WON YET? "Yeah, it's a little annoying. We came so close over last year, the last 10 races we were so competitive and leading laps and running up front. This year, even though we've run well, we've had a good start to the season, but we just haven't been as fast as we were last year. We've just got to figure it out. I don't know if it's the tire or we're doing things a little different. We've just got to keep working hard and figure it out. Reed's been doing an excellent job in all the cars I ran last year. They're running good at all the places I ran good at last year, so I think we've got to take a hard look at that and make sure we're going down the same road. I'm excited about the year still. Even though Donnie (crew chief Wingo) and I have known each other for quite awhile now, there are some little kinks and quirks there we've got to work out. I'm very happy with him at the moment. I think things are going in the right direction for sure. We've just got to keep going down that path and get spot on sooner rather than later, but right now I think we're about nine-tenths and we've got to get (the rest)."
IS THIS A GOOD TIME FOR A WEEKEND OFF? "I don't know. Right now I think you'd take any weekend as a good weekend off. You only get three of them, so I don't look at it as a negative thing. It kind of gives us time to regroup a little bit. This weekend off you've got to prepare yourself for that long stretch. You need to take some time for yourself and relax and get away from racing a little bit and refocus, you also need to get inside the shop and regroup and figure out how you're going to attack this long stretch coming up before we get the next off weekend. It's an important one. It's the one that leads up to The Chase. We've got to focus, dig our heels in here. We're in 10th place. We did a good job of maintaining at Texas, but what we really need to do is capitalize on those weekends we know we can run well at. Atlanta was one of those weekends. Texas was one of those weekends. We gave those two tracks up. We need to do our homework here and focus on those tracks where we can run well. Phoenix is a perfect opportunity to get back up there in the points."
COMMENT ON RUNNING AT PHOENIX "You know I did a lot of testing there in Indy cars and Indy Lights. I raced there in Indy cars. I've always liked Phoenix. It's been a fun track for me. We've physically struggled there a little bit. Two years ago we had an awesome car there. We went through the field and we were running second and we blew a left rear (tire) with about 10 laps to go. We really had a good shot at winning the race. I think Junior ended up winning the race that year. It was weird. We don't know why that particular weekend we ran great. We just know that we did. I think in the past when we've run well at Phoenix is when the track is a little cooler. It's when it's overcast or towards the evening. I'm looking forward to the night race. I think it's going to benefit us."
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR ROLE AS SENIOR MEMBER OF THE THREE-CAR CHIP GANASSI RACING WITH FELIX SABATES TEAM? "I don't know. I don't look at it as a leadership role. I'm there for any support or advice those guys need. They've done an excellent job. I know David (Stremme) and those guys have had a little trouble getting the communication right within that team. It's a totally new team. Reed (Sorenson) stepped into a team that was well established. I stepped into a team that was well established. David is in a different situation right now. They've got a lot of learning to do as a team, not just as a driver. I do anything I can to help them. Anything I can think of off the top of my head that may help them going into a race, I try to do that. In the meantime, 99.9 percent of my time is focused on doing the job we need to get done that weekend. We're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to make that Chase. We want to do that, so we're focusing on that a lot right now."
DID KASEY KAHNE'S WIN ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHARGER? "Obviously they can win. I think we proved that, almost, last year several times. We ran up front and led a lot of laps, so we felt good about the Charger going into the season. We still know there's room for improvement. I think the Dodge teams have done a good job of finding ways to make the Charger work. It's not optimum. When it's right, it can be really good. When you're off, you can be way off. We still feel like the window is kinda small for tuning, but that doesn't mean you can't get it right. It can be very fast. I don't think all the questions are answered. I don't think it's put to bed. I don't think it's ever all put to bed, but I think it's very clear that the Charger is a very fast racecar and it can win races. You've just got to get it right."
DO THE DODGE TEAMS SHARE INFORMATION? "That's a good question. I really don't know. I just focus on talking to my guys. Whether they communicate with Penske and Evernham, I'm not really sure. I do know the intention of the whole Dodge thing to begin with one of the first Dodge's I drove when I was hired by Ganassi, I went and drove one of Evernham's Dodges because it was a Dodge program. They wanted to get some miles on the motors and get some information about the aero package. I know that the effort was put forward to go that way. How much is actually shared I don't know. I've been so focused on what we're doing."
IS YOUR CHARGER THIS SEASON A CARBON COPY OF THE CAR YOU RAN SO WELL IN LAST YEAR? "It's similar. I think we've attempted to do the same things we did last year, but we have been a little different. I haven't had the same setups I had last year. We've gone in that direction with a little bit of differences here and there. I think our focus now is to go into Charlotte, knowing we can run well there, we're building a body exactly like I ran last year. We're going to focus on setting it up like I ran it last year, just because it's proven. I know if we get that right we can be fast. We're focused on that. Donnie is 100 percent in that direction. I think for the first time this year we're going to eventually have a car that was identical to the ones I drove last year. We may build that car and go there and struggle. There are no guarantees, but at least it will clear my mind. If we don't run good there I'll know we gave every effort. That window is so small to get the car right. If you're off, you're way off. It can be something as small as one guy reading on the top of the tape measure and the other guy reading on the bottom line. You can say it's the same, but if you do that all around the car it could end up being a quarter inch different. That window is so small to get those things right and it's so sensitive, we've just got to focus on every little detail."
ARE YOU SURPRISED HOW WELL KASEY KAHNE HAS RUN AT THE MILE AND A HALF TRACKS? "No, he's a talented racecar driver. He's fast. The first year he came out like crazy. When they got the car right, he was unreal. When they were off, they were off. They've done a very good job of getting the car right. I know that looking at the attitude of his car they're doing a lot of the things that we did last year and more power to them. They've done a great job. It's great to see a Dodge win. I just wish it would be me at some point."
COMMENT ON SOFTER BUMPERS AT TALLADEGA "I really don't know the reason for softer bumpers. To me the bump drafting is what makes those races fun. I know they want to get rid of guys slamming people, and I think they did when they had the meeting. I don't think they needed to do one thing with the bumpers. They're doing it out of reaction I think and felt like they needed to do something based on some comments that were said during the last race. NASCAR standing up and saying what they said in the last meeting made all the guys drive clean. It was one of the cleanest races I've seen in a long time. I feel that the majority of the crashes are caused not by the guy trying to bump draft the guy. It's the guy in front trying to block the guy that has a run. If you really look at a lot of the big crashes that happen, every now and then it's a guy that gets too much of a run in the corner or catches a guy at the wrong time. Nine times out of 10 it's the guy in front blocking the guy that has a run that causes the big crash. Regardless of how strong the bumpers are, if a guy pulls out in front you're still going to have that crash. I think if they pull the bumpers completely out of this thing and you couldn't hit at all, NASCAR still needs to stand up and say what they said in the meetings in Daytona just because it made the guys think and drive a little cleaner."
COMMENT ON RICHMOND "Richmond has always been a cool track. You hear that from a lot of guys and it's for several reasons. First of all, a lot of guys like racing under the lights. The crowd is very enthusiastic and always enjoys the race. The main thing is, typically this place has a second groove and it makes for good racing. It looks like that groove is going to open up this year. I know they've gone back and forth on sealing the track or not sealing the track. It seems like the upper groove is already coming in in this test, so I think it's going to force the place to have two grooves again and it makes for a good race."
IF YOU WERE GOING TO BUILD A TRACK WOULD IT BE LIKE RICHMOND? "You know I like this track a lot, but if I was going to build a track it would be like Texas. I love the high speeds personally. I think Richmond is an awesome racetrack. I love racing here. I love the diversity NASCAR has with all the different racetracks, but I've got to be honest when it comes to my favorite tracks, and I love running 200 mph or over. I love that feeling. Any time I can get to a track where we can run those speeds, that's what gets my fire going. I do enjoy racing here. It's a lot of fun."
EXPLAIN WHAT THE ATTITUDE OF THE CAR MEANS "When I say attitude, I mean the ride height of the car, how the car rides through the air. The front end being down, the back end of the car being up. There's a lot of ways to get optimum downforce out of these cars. The majority of it is getting the attitude of the car right. One thing we've noticed is when we've been fast the attitude of the car has been right. Kasey Kahne and those guys accomplished it last weekend. It was very visible on the track and the speed was there. Everybody is trying to achieve that right now. If you look across the board, everybody is trying to get the front of these cars down, the back of the cars up. It's a constant compromise between aero and mechanical grip. Every time you do something to gain aero, it's taking away from mechanical and vice versa. When you go to these intermediate tracks, places like Richmond and Phoenix that aren't all aero, that are mechanical and aero, it becomes difficult to get the cars to work right with what we're trying to do right now. There are a lot of different ideas, a lot of crazy stuff going on trying to get these cars to work at that attitude. Some guys are accomplishing it, but there's a very small window to work in."
IS THE CAR'S ATTITUDE OR DRIVER'S ATTITUDE MORE IMPORTANT? "It depends on if you're at Richmond or Bristol. Obviously, it always helps to be positive and think ahead and look forward. Donnie is pretty good at that. He's pretty good at keeping my attitude going in the right direction. There are times if we're off a little bit I can get upset fairly easy and he's good at saying, 'hey, we can get it. We've got time.' Keeping a driver's attitude positive is very important as well as getting the car's attitude right."