Mears has luck on his side, grabs Chicagoland pole

If Friday the 13th is supposed to be an unlucky day, don't tell Casey Mears. Mears wheeled his Chevy to a fast lap of 182.556 miles per hour to claim the pole for Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. It's his first pole since ...

If Friday the 13th is supposed to be an unlucky day, don't tell Casey Mears.

Mears wheeled his Chevy to a fast lap of 182.556 miles per hour to claim the pole for Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. It's his first pole since claiming the top spot in Indianapolis in 2004.

Despite going nearly three years without a pole, Mears was confident earlier in the day that he had the car to do it.

"I walked up and talked to all of my guys and told them that we could sit on the pole today," said Mears, who earned his third career pole. "We had a really fast car. We just keep stepping it up this year -- keep getting better. This is a great one for us. I'm real happy about it."

Mears had a late qualifying draw and took advantage of cloud cover that gave him a little extra grip on the track.

"We got a little bit of a cloud there," said Mears, who has jumped from 35th to 19th in the point standings since his win at Lowe's in May. "It's a great day for our team. Everybody is pumped up about this weekend."

Mears has enjoyed his time at Chicagoland Speedway. This is the third time in five tries that he will start in the top four and he won his first Busch Series race here last summer. His best Nextel Cup Series finish in Chicago was a ninth place run in 2005.

Martin Truex Jr. has been one of the hottest drivers on the circuit since his win at Dover six weeks ago. He was the fastest qualifier among the first half of qualifiers and will start second on Sunday.

"I got a little loose getting into turn 3," said Truex, who has finished third or better in four of the past six races. "I've been having that problem all day. If anybody can touch that, they can have it."

Ryan Newman was one of the last qualifiers and claimed the third spot while Mark Martin qualified fourth before jumping in a helicopter to head to Iowa Speedway for tonight's Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five after announcing earlier in the day that this will be his last season with Budweiser as his sponsor.

"I had a great relationship with Budweiser," Earnhardt said. "Whoever they work with in the future is going to have a great time and a great partner. I think the relationship we had was hugely positive in my career. They took me and molded me into a lot of things and I owe them a lot of credit for what I am and who I am at the track."

Points leader Jeff Gordon is the defending race winner. He qualified 11th.

"We certainly learned a lot about our mile and a half program last year and we've been able to build on that this year," Gordon said. "The car was pretty good in practice and we've made some adjustments on it. All of those adjustments really paid off for us. We're having fun."

Denny Hamlin, who was punted out of the lead last week at Daytona by his teammate Tony Stewart, had the 13th fastest time on Friday. Hamlin said that as of Friday, he hadn't spoken to Stewart about last week's incident, but was clearly frustrated by comments that Stewart made after the wreck.

"Even if it was a situation where I had wrecked him from behind, he still probably shouldn't have thrown me under the bus as far as he did," Hamlin said. "But I was the guy in front. It was a little bit of disappointment so that's why I've taken this week to kind of calm down and I'll think with a much clearer head when I talk to him today."

Hamlin was the fastest of the first nine qualifiers. He felt like he could have put down a better lap, but was surprised at how good his car was.

"The track grip wise is a little bit off of what we had earlier," Hamlin said. "We made some adjustments and it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be."

Stewart qualified 19th and was pithy when asked why he hadn't spoken to Hamlin about the incident.

"I've had a busy week," Stewart said.

Kevin Harvick won the first two races at Chicagoland Speedway after it opened in 2001. He was one of the first cars to roll out for qualifying and said that the early cars were at a disadvantage. He qualified 14th.

"Mentally it's a disadvantage," said Harvick, who is ninth in the championship point standings. "You can't control all of the qualifying draws. Hopefully it gets us into the top 15 and we'll race our way up from there."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Martin Truex Jr. , Denny Hamlin , Mark Martin