Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Daytona Recap, California Advance Tuesday, February 21, 2006 CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger) NOTE: Mears, a 27-year-old driver from Bakersfield, Calif., scored his career-best NASCAR...
Dodge Motorsports Teleconference
Daytona Recap, California Advance
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Mears, a 27-year-old driver from Bakersfield, Calif., scored his career-best NASCAR NEXTEL Cup finish last Sunday with a runner-up performance in the Daytona 500 that paid $1,095,766. Mears will make his 110th career start on Sunday at California Speedway. He will also compete in the Busch race on Saturday at California Speedway.
OPENING COMMENTS "I'm going to put it in the bank and focus on the rest of the season and keep going if we can. Obviously it was a good weekend for us. I had a really good feeling going into the Daytona 500 just because all of the recent changes we made moving over to the 42 team and working with (crew chief) Donnie Wingo. Throughout the whole week, before the 150s, throughout the 150s, through practice leading up to the 500, we just kept making more and more progress. We kept making the car better and better. I was real confident going into the race. The beginning part of the race the car worked real good. After the first pit stop, I don't know if it was the mist and the haze that was in the air getting on the track or what the deal was, but there on out the car was really, really tight. We got to the back a couple of times and worked real hard to get the balance of the car right. At the end Donnie made some changes that really worked well and the car came in and we worked our way to the front. It was a lot of fun. To be able to come out of the Daytona 500 second, obviously you'd rather come out with a win, but it's my career best finish and the best finish I've ever had at Daytona obviously. It was a good day for us. Afterwards, since it was a good friend of mine that won, we celebrated a little with Jimmie Johnson and those guys. We went back to Felix's boat a little later that evening and had a good time and now we're preparing to go to California."
ANY SPECIAL PLANS FOR CALIFORNIA? "We've got a lot going on. We're actually doing a show for the Biography Channel that they're doing on a few different drivers. It's kind of like that Driven show they have on VH-1 where they go back in time and show where you came from and where you grew up and interview some friends of the family that I grew up with and grew up around. They just give some background on the driver and what he went through to get to where he is now. We're going to do a little filming in Bakersfield on Wednesday. Then we're going to San Diego and do a helicopter flight simulation on Thursday. I can't wait to get to California. It's usually a good race for us, and we have a lot of friends and family that show up. I'm looking forward to getting to an open motor track."
HOW ACTIVE WILL YOU BE AS CHIP GANASSI'S SENIOR CUP DRIVER? "I'm definitely happy to take on that role. First and foremost I've got to focus on my season and make sure we have success this year. That's going to take a lot of time and effort. In the meantime, anything I can possibly do to help Reed and David I'm going to do. I know how difficult it was my first couple of years coming into this sport. Obviously they've had a lot more stock car experience coming into the Cup Series level, but anything I can do to help I'm going to be there for them. So far we've worked well together, but it's kinda hard at Daytona to get in the nuts and bolts of things too much as far as car setup and things like that. You're just working on speed and it's not like a lot of other races we run throughout the year. We'll be grouped more tightly as far as the race meetings and after practices trying to figure out how to get better, but I was able to give them some information and help them out on what I've learned in the draft. To me it's going to be rewarding to be able to help those guys and at the end of the day them come back to me and tell me I told them something that helped them on the racetrack. I'm happy to do that. The worst kind of problem that could come out of it would be we share all the information we possibly can and end up going for the championship at the end of the year."
COMMENT ON THE UPS AND DOWNS OF YOUR CAREER "If you just go through the scenarios of when I first started in the Cup Series, my first year was horrendous but we all knew it was going to be coming from where I can from and the background and experience I had. We went off into the second year, and I talked to Chip even before it started and told him I had to have that second year because we knew the first year was going to be a struggle. We won a couple of poles and showed a lot of improvement the second year but still we weren't putting the numbers on the board like we needed to be to make sponsors happy and continue on. There were a lot of things that were going on behind the scenes. We didn't know what was going to happen for the following year. It was way into that second season before I knew I was going to be around for the third season. Things did shake out where I stuck around for last year, and I think in the middle of last year a lot of things didn't go our way. We had good racecars and were fast a lot of the time but really had a lot of bad luck. We weren't getting the finishes we needed. I think that sparked a lot of questions between the sponsors and team, where we were going to go in the future. Some decisions were made midway through last year that were already set in stone for '06. Then when we had our success toward the end of the year and finally started getting the success we deserved all of a sudden there was this new spark that we could get this done and we could do a good job. It was going to be tough. Anything you do anything new it takes a couple of years to get comfortable and acclimated with a new crew chief and a whole new set of guys, a new sponsor. It was going to be difficult. Unfortunately for the team because it was going to be a great deal for the team as far as the money situation goes, but that deal fell through. At the same time the current situation with Jamie and him wanting to go, it kinda all worked out. When they ended up releasing Jamie I got the 42 ride and fortunately I'm very excited about it. First of all I'm excited about the Texaco/Havoline team. Secondly, the way we started off the year with the Rolex 24 Hour race and then all the testing we did in the preseason has been really positive. It's kind of a long answer to the question because a lot of scenarios led up to this point, but it feels good now. I'm with a good team. We're fast, and I think a lot of things are going in the right direction."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE THE POINTS LEADER? "We kinda thought about that, too. We thought about the scenarios if they are going to take points away from the 48 car. In that case we'd be leading the points. It's awesome. Obviously it's one event. Next week everything can completely turn around and go backwards, but leading into California we've got a lot of confidence. That's been a good race for me. It feels great. Obviously I've left Daytona in worst shape."
YOU CAME CLOSE TO WINNING LAST YEAR. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET A WIN ASAP? "I think it's huge. I think we're proving as a team and I'm proving as a driver that we can run up front. Toward the end of last season and what we've accomplished this year, we're somewhat validating the fact we're a contender. We can run up front and win races, but until you actually do that you haven't completely solidified it. We need to go out and win some races this year. That's our main focus."
HOW MUCH OF A ROLE DID THE 24-HOUR RACE CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR DAYTONA 500 PERFORMANCE? "Technically, zero, because the cars are so different. I think our whole team and organization to know we start off the season with a win, there's obviously something to do with that as far as having that confidence going into that first race. I'd say 90 percent of it was just having a good off season. On the Cup side we had a great test at Nashville. I had a really good test at Las Vegas. We had a positive test at Daytona. We weren't fast for qualifying, but the car felt good in drafting practice. I think more than anything the 24-hour race, everything leading up to the Daytona 500 on the Cup side was really positive and gave us a lot of confidence going into the race. At the end of the day the 24-hour race boosted the whole team's spirits. Anytime you're got guys thinking positive, it's a good thing."
HOW DOES A NEW SPONSOR CHANGE YOUR RACING LIFE? "Obviously this sponsor, Texaco/Havoline, has been in the sport for 19 years. The history of drivers they have and the history they have in this sport made it a really different thing. If I had gone from Target to some other sponsor it would have been a color change and just a sponsor change, but the fact I'm driving the Texaco/Havoline Dodge with that big star on the hood is a big deal. It means a lot to fans, NASCAR, our team and our whole organization. It's awesome. I couldn't be more excited. There couldn't have been a better opportunity sponsorship wise. They've been absolutely great. They've been a lot of fun to work with. Target is a great organization and has a lot of good people involved with it, but Texaco is so heavily involved in the racing side of things it makes it a lot of fun. I want to hold my family name up proud, too. There's a lot on the lines this year behind the scenes that I want to accomplish and do."
COMMENT ON LEADING CUP AND GRAND AM STANDINGS "It's definitely a good way to start the season. I know at one point there was a lot of talk about whether we should go to Mexico and defend our grand am title on the off weekend, but I don't think that's going to happen. I don't want to jump the gun. I thought we were going to have a lot of success this season. It feels good to start the season off so well. It's been a long three years to sort of find myself in this sport. Hopefully we're off to a good start doing that."
COMMENT ON MAKING THE CHASE "We definitely have a shot at The Chase. I think honestly the last couple of years we've been one of the biggest underdogs and not even mentioned because of the results we've had, obviously. We really felt like we could be contenders. Last year a lot of bad luck plagued us from getting to that point. This year we've got the equipment. We've got the cars. The Dodge Charger is working great. We've got everything in our power right now to be in that Chase and to be in the top 10, so we've just got to put all the pieces of the puzzle in the right place, keep our heads up and keep digging and I think we can make it."
ARE YOU TO A POINT WHERE 'YOU GET IT' NOW? "I believe so. I think we've proved we can run up front and I can do it as a racecar driver. I did it before I got to stock cars. I ran up front and won races in every series I was running, so I always had that confidence in the back of my mind that I could do it. Fortunately, Chip saw it, too. It's a tough road to hoe when you know you can do it but you're not putting the numbers on the board. People on the inside understand and we knew and understood why we weren't getting those finishes and why we weren't running up front more often and it was more than me just not giving a full effort or me not being able to get the job done. Fortunately Chip saw that too, and at the end of last year we turned the corner and we've just got to keep on with that stide."
DO YOU INTEND TO RUN ANOTHER SPORTS CAR EVENT IN 2006? "I'd love to if things don't conflict. Fortunately and unfortunately we're so busy in the Cup business that it doesn't give us much time for extra curricular activities, but if there isn't a conflict and the sponsors work out and Chip is up for it, I'd love to run some more races."
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO FINALLY ESCAPE FROM DAYTONA? "It's funny because when you first get to Daytona three weeks prior to the race actually starting you can't wait to get there and get the racing started. You get there and as a driver there just isn't a lot of activity. Leading up to the race there's a couple of practices here and there. You've got the 150s, but it's so spread out. You're at Daytona for so long that at the end of Daytona at the beginning of the race you're so excited you can't wait to be a part of it. At the end of the race you're relieved it's over and you can move on and get the year started. Fortunately we ended up with a good finish and we can move on with our heads held up high. It's a tough place to do that. In the past there's been a lot of big wrecks and crashes that can really put a damper on your points situation going into the beginning of the year, but it definitely felt good to get Daytona out of the way and we're ready to go to California."
WHAT DID YOUR DAD AND UNCLE HAVE TO SAY AFTER THE 500? "They are just elated. My dad was so excited. It was a nerve-wrecker for him. We ran in the back until the last third of the race. The car was really tight and it wasn't looking all that good. The last pit stop we had, Donnie made some adjustments and we got a little track position on pit road and we started coming through the field and got toward the front. Dad was elated and excited. I talked to Rick (Mears) and got a lot of comments. He had a blast watching the race. It's fun to be able to get hold of those guys who were my heroes and still are today, but who I watched my whole life and share that excitement with them. It's fun to have the roles reversed a little bit."
DO YOU KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR CALIFORNIA FRIENDS? "I don't see a lot of those guys anymore or keep in touch with them very often. A lot of them do show up for the California race and it's always good to catch up. Just being from California a lot of friends and family show up, but it's fun to see a lot of those off-road guys come up. Walker Evans came up and hung out with us last year. It's good to see those guys."
COMMENT ON YOUR FUTURE PLANS "At the moment I'm on the tail end of a four-year deal I had with Chip. This is the last year. We're currently talking right now trying to figure things out. We're not in a big rush. We've got the whole year to get things ironed out and ready to go for the future. Nothing is set in stone for the following season, but we are currently talking about it now."
IS IT EXCITING TO GO BACK HOME AND RACE? "Absolutely. It was an awesome feeling. I had so many phone calls after the race this weekend. Unfortunately I haven't been able to get back to everybody quite yet. Some family I have down in San Diego. My brother had a huge party for the Daytona 500 with about 70 people at his house. When they called I could hear everybody in the background. I got so much support from everybody back home in California and everywhere. It was a good feeling to come home from that race with a good finish and to get all the phone calls from people who have supported me for so long."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO WIN YOUR FIRST RACE AT CALIFORNIA? "It'd be huge. Obviously you've got big races throughout the year. You've got the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Bristol, but for myself a win at California would be the most perfect."
COMMENT ON RUNNING THE CHARGER ALL SEASON "Last year as a whole all the Dodge owners got together and turned in some possible weaknesses for the new Charger nose, but in our minds last season was the time to get all that stuff established and done as far as the Ganassi organization goes. Obviously if we can find something that's going to make it better we're all for it, but at the moment we're focused on devoting all our time to the Charger. The way we ran toward the end of last year I think proves that we can get it working right. We made some more improvements during the off season and made it better. As we get into the season we'll know a little better about where we stand. We'll know exactly we feel about everything, but right now we're committed to sticking with the Charger the whole season and so far we're pretty confident in it."