CASEY MEARS (No. 41 Target Dodge) NOTE: Mears, a 26-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., native, made his 48th career Cup start in the Coca-Cola 600. He finished seventh, his third top 10 in the last four races and his fourth top 10 in the last six ...
CASEY MEARS (No. 41 Target Dodge)
NOTE: Mears, a 26-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., native, made his 48th career Cup start in the Coca-Cola 600. He finished seventh, his third top 10 in the last four races and his fourth top 10 in the last six starts. He's moved from 23rd to 16th in the series standings in those six starts, and Sunday's seventh-place finish tied his career-best -- all scored this season in the same Dodge.
COCA-COLA 600 RECAP
"Obviously we were pretty happy with the way the 600 worked out, running inside the top 10 all day. I was actually nervous at the start of the race because our car was so loose during the day. We thought we weren't going to be very good until the sun went down, but Jimmy (crew chief Elledge) and I got together and made some changes before the start of the race and the car worked well right out of the gate. We had that long green flag run and didn't go a lap down. We stayed right there in the hunt. It was a good day all the way around. We had good pit stops pretty much the whole time. We had one bad stop at a crucial time, which was our second to last stop. That was going to be our last stop, but because we had some trouble on that stop we decided to go ahead after the red flag and come back in and take tires again and go down swinging. I believe we came out running 13th and ended up seventh. It was a good call, and we had a good run all day for the Target Dodge and a lot of fun. Unfortunately I was feeling kinda bad. I've got a bad head cold I'm trying to get rid of, but it definitely felt good to run well."
OUTLOOK FOR DOVER
"I'm looking forward to it. So far this year everywhere we've gone we've run a lot better than we did last year. We struggled there my first race in the Cup car. We went and felt like we had a good car and I crashed on the first lap. It hasn't been good to me, but at the same time I enjoy it and I'm looking forward to getting a full Dover race under my belt."
WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT YOUR CHARLOTTE DODGE? IT WAS YOUR THIRD SEVENTH-PLACE FINISH IN THAT DODGE
"Obviously it's a good car. It's worked really well for us. We've used it a lot at the mile and a half tracks. I think once you run good in a car, regardless if that car is a good car or not, your confidence is there in that car and it's going to run well. I think that goes a long way. It's a car that responds well to change. Some cars are kinda numb to certain changes, and that one is very sensitive to each change. It makes the car a little easier to tune. It's just a good car all the way around. I've got a lot of confidence in it. I think we're saving it for a lot of the faster tracks."
COMMENT ON JIMMIE JOHNSON'S NEAR-PERFECT RACE AT LMS
"I think you can start calling that place, instead of Lowe's start calling it Johnson. He runs really well there. Jimmie is a great friend of mine and has been for a long time. I was real happy for him. He ran well, and it's very rare you see a car that's that dominant. I think the combination, there team has really got its act together at that place, and it's a drivers' track. Charlotte is definitely one of those tracks that's different and unique. A driver that catches on to it faster than the next guy is going to have a leg up. They got the car right. (Chad) Knaus is doing a great job and Jimmie is really good at that particular track. Pesonally, I can't say I've had a perfect race. That definitely was a near-perfect race. Congratulations to him. How often do you see that? Never, especially in Nextel Cup. It's so competitive these days. To have that dominant of a car and the whole effort all the way around is very rare. Those guys, I guess you could say, pretty much just whipped us all."
DO YOU MAKE CHANGES WITH THE CHAMPIONSHIP CUT IN MIND?
"Obviously we want to make that cut and be inside the top 10 when that cut comes, but really we were just trying to make the call to finish as high as we could in the race. I think that second pit stop from the end, if we hadn't had a bad stop and had decent track position we probably would have stayed out and it probably would have been easier to get a top five. The fact we did stop and were sitting 10th at the time, we didn't feel like we had a lot to lose by putting on tires because there weren't a lot of people on the lead lap. Really, the points didn't come into mind, but finishing higher did."
IS THERE A MENTAL PLAY FOR YOU AT DOVER?
"Not really, we pretty much wipe the slate clean after each weekend. Each weekend is a new weekend, and this is a totally different year. I have a ton of confidence going into Dover that we can run well just based off our past races this year. I'd have a tough time basing anything off last year. I was so green, and the team was fairly new. Jimmy Elledge and I, our communication wasn't there. There are so many things I could go on and on about last year. This year is so much better right off the bat. I don't have any doubts going into Dover at all even though we've had some bad races there."
DID SOMETHING HAPPEN IN THE OFF SEASON THAT MADE THE 41 TARGET DODGE TEAM BETTER?
"I wish if there was something in particular that happened in the off season, I wish I could bottle it up and sell it. I can't point a finger at a big change. I think all the way around everything has gotten better. Our personnel, our team works a lot better together. We had a lot of great guys last year, but having great guys isn't always the key. You've got to make sure you've got a core of six or seven guys that work well together. That's what really helps. Jimmy and I, our communication is just a ton better. I'm a lot more seasoned. I was really, really green last year. I had a very so-so year in Busch, if you even want to call it that. That makes it sound good. I stepped right into Cup and that was a huge chance that Target/Chip Ganassi Racing took, and I'm thankful they stuck with me through this year. It's all paying off so far."
DOES MAKING THE CUT FOR FINAL 10 RACES WEIGH ON YOUR THOUGHTS WHEN YOU'RE RACING?
"Not really. We race race to race. I think in the back of our mind, I don't want to try anything really stupid that could put myself in a situation that could lose ground by not finishing a race. We're not points racing, but at the same time in the back of your mind you don't want to make a mistake. This year hasn't changed my thoughts on that. That's the way we approach every race. We want to do well. We want to win races, and you've got to take some chances to run up front. At the same time, you try to take those chances when they're a little bit easier to take. You want to make sure you finish races. It's huge, but making that cut isn't something that passes through my mind when I'm racing."
HOW ARE THINGS DIFFERENT IN NASCAR FROM LAST YEAR?
"As far as the cars are concerned, obviously we have less spoiler in the rear and less downforce. The tire, not so much the compound but the sidewall construction of the tires is quite a bit softer than it was last year. The cars drive a little freer. The back end moves around a little bit more. It doesn't have as much grip. The car moves around a little more in general. When the car loads, instead of getting that real secure feeling when the car loads into the corner, you've got to let it load and then roll and then sort of slide before the thing actually sets. It gives a really false feeling of looseness even though you might not be loose. The guys who can adapt to that faster are starting to run well. I think that improved our game. I've had a tendency to like a looser race car. Some of the guys like Kasey Kahne and some of the new guys coming in don't know what it felt like last year. It's all new to them, so they've got to run fast. In a lot of ways it's funny. At the beginning of the year, people thought it would lean more toward the veterans. I actually think it's leaning more toward the guys who don't have as much experience because we don't know any better."
"When you get into the corner and you turn there's a period where the tire has to load. You roll off into the corner and the rubber on the ground starts to bite. Then the wheel, the actual tire itself starts to flex. When that tire stops flexing, that's your limit. With the stiffer sidewall, the tire loads sooner. This tire grips and has to move a little more before it stops the loading process. That's what's difficult to get past. You get in there and you feel like it's loaded and the tire moves again and you get out of the gas because you think it'll get loose. In all reality, it loads, leans on itself again and that's your edge."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT NEW SAFER BARRIER AT DAYTONA?
"I think it's great. I've got into it a couple of times now, and it's like night and day difference. Anywhere we can get those put up it's going to be better. The fact they did it at Daytona is great. How often do we get those big pileups and everybody is hitting the wall? There's plenty of room around that place. You run wide open all the way around, so I think it's a great thing."
IS THERE ANY CERTAIN PLACE AND TIME THAT'S BEST FOR AN AUTOGRAPH? "I think the best times are in the morning before the day gets started and after your day is over. As a new guy, it's funny in that balance of what is not doing it enough or doing it too much and taking up your time you need to be thinking about the racecar. I really enjoy going out to my souvenir trailer. I do it twice a weekend and go out and sign. I try to get the biggest fans that follow me. That's the best time. When you're a new guy and you're walking through the garage and you've got your mind on racing and how much to do and how much not to do without making someone upset is hard to balance. I think we all try to handle it the best we can. I've been known before qualifying to go out early, at places like California and Pocono, leave 30 minutes early and sign all I can before qualifying before I need to get focused and get in the car. I try to make time when I can, and it's hard to balance. It sounds real simple. I describe it to a lot of people like this. If you had a desk job and you sit down and try to get your work done on your computer and every five minutes someone comes in and asks you a question. It is distracting at times. At the same time, it's very humbling and awesome that people want your autograph. It's a neat and weird experience. I try to make time as much as I can."
HOW BIG IS THE SOUVENIR BUSINESS FOR DRIVERS?
"I think it's real important. Obviously the corporate sponsor is involved and the team is involved. It's a small part of the revenue they get back, but if you're a driver and you do well, it could be a big part of your earnings for the year. That's a huge reason why we go out and sign. Also, it's a great opportunity to meet a lot of fans. It's fun. I think the most fun thing about it is when you get a little kid that comes up and he's excited. Someone who's real genuine makes it real gratifying to go out and do that. If things are going well and you're winning races it can be a big source of your revenue."