Dynamic Duo: Casey Mears And Crew Chief Alan Gustafson Ready For Close-Ups * Safari Style: Kyle Busch's Off-Season All About The Journey * Kyle Busch Turns Top Speed In Wednesday Morning Drafting Session DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 9, 2008) --...
Dynamic Duo: Casey Mears And Crew Chief Alan Gustafson Ready For Close-Ups
* Safari Style: Kyle Busch's Off-Season All About The Journey
* Kyle Busch Turns Top Speed In Wednesday Morning Drafting Session
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 9, 2008) -- As the quiet stars in the Hendrick Motorsports constellation, Casey Mears (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) and his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, relish their current role of radar avoidance.
So much so, that during a Wednesday lunch break session in Daytona International Speedway's media center, Mears gleaned some heretofore unknown tidbits about his new crew chief.
"About 20 minutes ago I found out how he got started with Hendrick Motorsports," a grinning Mears said of Gustafson's answer to a media member's question.
This week's first three-day session of NASCAR Preseason Thunder -- NASCAR's annual January tests -- ended with Wednesday's drafting runs for NASCAR Sprint Cup teams in attendance (those that were in odd positions in car owner standings as of July 17, 2007).
For Mears and Gustafson, it included side-by-side work with Hendrick's brightest stars -- two-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet).
"This is the kind of place where all the teams test," Gustafson said of Daytona's 2.5-mile surface, which hosts the 50th Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. "You bring the best of the best. You work on the wind tunnel, your motors, your cars, how they drive. It would be real nice to win it for that reason, too, because you know everybody's bringing their best stuff.
Newly installed in the No. 5 thanks to Kyle Busch's (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) departure to Joe Gibbs Racing, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s (No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet) move to Hendrick, Mears joins a team and a crew chief who are two-time Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup participants, a match many observers believe will be heavenly.
And the crew chief-driver bond that both men say is developing with each lap, first emerged a year ago during a two-hour flight from Orlando, Fla., to Charlotte, N.C. Then-new to Hendrick, Mears found himself passing time with a young crew chief in the Hendrick organization. Both were headed for sponsor appearances; both quickly realized a professional kinship.
"After we got back, I remember getting off the plane and calling Jimmie and telling him that I thought Alan would be the kind of crew chief I'd like to work with some day," Mears said. "I liked a lot of what he had to say about things and I had a lot of respect for what he'd done in the past."
Gustafson came to the same realization.
"We got to really sit there and talk about a lot of things, and that was good," he says of that initial airplane conversation with Mears. "That's what I really remember. I'd gotten the feeling that we had very similar thoughts and ways to go about things."
Fast-forward 365 days: Although sheltered, for now, by teammates' star power, Mears and Gustafson feel their No. 5 group has the potential to shine just as brightly.
"I want to work with Casey until I quit," Gustafson said Wednesday. "And maybe down the road somewhere, when he's the mayor of Bakersfield (Calif., Mears' hometown), I want him to be able to look back and say the same thing. That's what I want to get out of it, and I think Casey is the guy who can do that."
For Mears, who's beginning his fifth season with his fourth team, stability looms large.
"The thing that's exciting about working with Alan is the fact that he has been a crew chief a solid four years," Mears said. "Having that experience, he's been through it. You can't replace that experience."
Kyle Busch Off and Running with JGR ... Having journeyed from Hendrick Motorsports to Joe Gibbs Racing during the off-season, Kyle Busch also spent the past three days undergoing his first NASCAR Preseason Thunder with his new team. Likewise a Wednesday visitor to the Daytona infield media center, Busch pronounced the season's first test a strong one for his No. 18 team and crew chief Steve Addington.
As a new teammate to two-time series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), Busch -- a Chase participant for the past two seasons -- knows expectations are high, which he welcomes. "Everything's going great," said Busch, who led Wednesday morning's drafting session with a top speed of 187.786 (47.927 seconds). "You know, being back at the shop, working with the guys a little bit, getting seats all squared away -- everybody's been real helpful, real eager, and they've been telling me about how excited they are." Following an off-season vacation to Grand Cayman Island and holiday celebration with family, Busch got ready for 2008 with his own safari of sorts -- a pre-New Year's Eve, cross-country drive to his hometown of Las Vegas with buddy Alex Heese. Driving Busch's truck and hauling a trailer filled with four-wheelers, the two friends marathon drove 36 hours just to go four-wheeling in desert sand dunes. "We got through Georgia in two hours, Alabama and Mississippi in about two and a half hours," Busch said. "And we spent 12 hours in Texas. That's how big Texas is."
Pit Stops ... Following Kyle Busch on Wednesday's speed chart was AJ Allendinger (No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota) at 187.375 mph (48.032 seconds). Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) was third at 187.207 mph (48.075 seconds). Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) was fourth, also at 187.207 mph and 48.075 seconds. Jimmie Johnson -- who led both Monday sessions and Tuesday's morning's session -- was fifth in Wednesday morning's drafting session at 187.149 mph (48. 090 seconds).