CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger) YOU HAD FAST CHARGERS LAST YEAR AT TEXAS AND HOMESTEAD, AND LATE CAUTION FLAGS GOT IN THE WAY. ARE YOU OVER THOSE DISAPPOINTMENTS? "I'm not over it. Obviously we'd like to have those back. We...
CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger)
YOU HAD FAST CHARGERS LAST YEAR AT TEXAS AND HOMESTEAD, AND LATE CAUTION FLAGS GOT IN THE WAY. ARE YOU OVER THOSE DISAPPOINTMENTS? "I'm not over it. Obviously we'd like to have those back. We had some really fast cars at the end of the year last season. We didn't get a chance to capitalize on it, and it was very frustrating. I'm looking forward to this year. We've made a lot of changes, and I'm not working with the same guys I was working with last year when we were running that fast. We had a test at Nashville with Donnie (crew chief Wingo) and these guys and ran faster than we ever have there. I feel pretty good about it. I tested with Donnie my first year at Watkins Glen and came back and ran pretty fast. This last year we tested at Martinsville and did well. Then at Nashville, so the three times we've tested together we've been fast. These guys have been together for three years and they know how to work together. The fact that Donnie has been right across the table when we've had meetings, it's not like I'm working with a stranger. He's already a friend of mine that I know real well. The transition learning how to communicate is not even there. Right out of the gate I tell him what I want and the changes he makes are in the right direction. Everybody has their difference. Jimmy (Elledge) had strengths that Donnie doesn't have and Donnie has strengths that Jimmy doesn't have. It's human nature for people to be a little different, but I don't feel like I'm losing Jimmy. I just feel like I'm gaining Donnie. If we get stumped on something and need to go back to what we did last year, it's right there for us any time. At the same time I'm gaining Donnie's strengths."
WHICH RACE DID YOU HAVE THE BEST CHANCE TO WIN LAST YEAR? "Probably the second Texas. The first Texas I ran second all day long and ended up fourth. The second Texas we were flying. We were slow for 15-18 laps. We were too loose, but when we got going we were half a second faster than second place. We'd come back and pass everybody and drive up to the front. We did that four or five times during the day. I don't like for the car to be tight at all, and the way we've been setting them up lately we've been really, really loose at the beginning of the runs and it would come in later. At Homestead we closed in on that gap a little bit. We started out tighter than we did at Texas. At Texas it was 15-18 laps before it came in. At Homestead it was 10-12 laps, so we closed in on it a little bit. That's our focus again this year. Rarely do these races end with a long run. Whether there's a late caution for an accident or if it just needs to be an exciting race..."
WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE ABOUT TO GET YOUR FIRST WIN? "It's been three years coming and those three years were horrendous and hard on everybody. We sat on some poles the second year and showed some improvement, but we never got a lot out of it. We thought we were going to break out last year and do well. The potential was there all year long, but the first half of the year something would happen. I've had good luck and bad luck, but that was all bad luck. Then we put together a good string of races to end the year and finished the way we should have finished the first half of the season. We got really close, but it was really disappointing that we didn't close the deal. I think now my experience level is there. The team has good cars and good equipment. We've proven we can run up front. We've just got to do it week in and week out."
WHAT DID YOUR TEAM DO TO IMPROVE THE CHARGER ON THE MILE AND A HALF TRACKS? "I think we did some things internally that worked well on our cars, just finding out how to work with the package. Once you learn where the strengths and weaknesses are with what you have, you can make adjustments that cater more to the strong side. I think that's what we did last year. We found how to make 'em work. It's a little bit more difficult and it's a little different approach, but we found out how to make it work. We don't have any '04 backups. I think that's the biggest area where a team could get messed up. If you have two or three different scenarios to work with that take different ways to set up the car to make it work, you can get headed down the wrong path. If you keep changing back and forth the whole year you can really get thrown off that way. Our strategy is to just focus on what we have and continue to develop it and get it better. We've had stuff back to back in the wind tunnel and found situations where the '04 car might be a little better, but some things about it aren't as good as the Charger. You've just got to work with what you have and try to get it to work the best you can. Overall we've been happy with the Charger, and it's worked well for us. It's been fast, but we've just got to keep working with it and get it faster."
DO YOU FEEL ANY MORE PRESSURE NOW THAT YOU'RE IN THE 42? "I don't feel any more pressure. I'm a lot more excited. It's cool to have change. Target has been a great sponsor. To be with Texaco/Havoline now is the next step up for me. It's a sponsor that's been in the sport for so long, and it's a racing sponsor. Oil is a racing sponsor. When I look at it, it's stuff I've seen forever over the years. I'm really excited. It's funny. Yesterday I was down in my dad's basement and he'd hung a lot of old pictures on the walls. It had my dad (Roger Mears) and my uncle (Rick Mears) with Chevron emblems in the mid 70s. Chevron is part of the same family."
DID YOU DO ANYTHING COOL DURING THE HOLIDAYS? "Yeah, I took off for a couple of weeks and did a dirt bike ride down in Baja, Calif., for about 10 days. We went about 1,500 miles. We saw just about all of Baja. We rode down the gulf side and went all the way down to Laredo and came back up the Pacific side. It was just for fun. We'd stop and take pictures. We weren't pushing ourselves. We just had a good time riding."
COMMENT ON COMPETING IN THE 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA "I'm real excited about that. I'm driving with Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon in the Target car. It's better than last year. We were fast last year and leading until the night when we had a rear brake problem. We tested a couple of weeks ago. All the way around the car is better. The team has done it for a couple of years now and they have a better idea of how to run the race. I think all together this is really a good year to win the race. If we don't have any major issues, we have a lot of potential to win the race. It's fun, but it's fun because you want to win it. You're very serious about trying to win it. It's another one of those big events. The Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, Indy 500 and the 24 Hours are the biggest races out there. Any time you get in position to win one of those races, you've got to go for it."
WHAT'S THE BIG GOAL FOR THE 42 TEAM IN 2006? "When it comes to that 26th race, we want to be in the top 10 and be able to fight for the championship. I won't be satisfied if we just win one race. I don't think you're ever satisfied. If you ever catch me saying I'm satisfied after winning a couple of races or three races, you might as well tell me to retire. Once you win, you just want to keep winning more."