CASEY MEARS JOINS HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS IN 2007 Casey Mears Talks About Being Named Driver of No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS for 2007 CASEY MEARS, No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS driver for 2007 Vickers claims he's leaving because...
CASEY MEARS JOINS HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS IN 2007
Casey Mears Talks About Being Named Driver of No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS for 2007
CASEY MEARS, No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS driver for 2007
Vickers claims he's leaving because he's the fourth wheel; will you feel like that?
I don't really view it that way. Brian's a great friend of mine and he's been there now for a few years. His scenarios are his scenarios but for me, I look at how things have gone down in the past there and when Jimmie came in they told him the #24 team (Gordon) will always be the lead team and you're going to be the second wheel or the third wheel, because he came in the third team at the time. Look where he's gotten now. They've put together a great program and he's done a great job. Same thing with Kyle (Busch). He came in and everybody's telling him he's going to be the third or fourth wheel now. And he came in and won races and did a good job. Obviously the potential is there. I think there's been a lot of things to discuss and we've got a lot of things to continue to discuss on how the team is going to be structured for next season; what exactly is going to go on there. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, all the equipment, the stuff that Jimmie, Jeff and Kyle all use are available. The biggest thing that we need to do going into next season is to get everything structured right. They're working on a lot of things right now and we'll just see how it goes. I'm excited about it for a lot of obvious reasons, Hendrick Motorsports has been one of the top teams in NASCAR for a long time and I'm getting to race with a lot of good friends and it's exciting.
Can you tell us how this deal came about? Should the No. 25 team change numbers?
As I recall, looking back in the past Tim Richmond did pretty good in that car. The way it all came about was pretty crazy, really. Obviously there were a lot of options out there. I did work and talk a lot with Chip (Ganassi) trying to work some things out. We got to a point where we knew where we were with Chip and I knew where I was with Chip and it wasn't probably until the last few weeks before I made my decision where we knew exactly where we were, to where I could base the decision on whether to stay or go. There was a couple of different things going on at the time; teams I was considering going to and when Brian made his decision to move on it opened up a door at Hendrick. We probably haven't been talking for more than a week and a half. It all came down really quick. I've been close to Rick now for the last few years. Ricky was one of the first guys that I ever met when I moved back to North Carolina. I met Rick through him, obviously, and got to know a lot of the Hendrick people over the last three or four years I've been back in N.C. Over the last couple years, kind of questioning or wondering where I was going to go I've called Rick and asked his advice - not so much as a team owner but just as a friend; someone who's been in the sport for a long time. It just so happened that a day or two after Brian made his announcement I called Rick and asked him "here's some things I'm thinking about doing, what do you think?" He said "you're never going to believe this, Brian came to me earlier today and said he was wanting out". Everything came together really fast; everything changed right then and when there was an option open there I didn't hesitate.
Your priority on the structure? What crew can you take? What have Jimmie and Jeff said?
A lot of those details right now we still haven't discussed. Everything's happened so fast in the last couple of weeks. A lot of the. I don't know, it's pretty broad right now. Exactly where we're going to narrow in and what needs to be changed and restructured. There's just a lot of options that we have as far as the team itself goes. We're going to sit down and talk about that; we've got a lot of months to figure that out before next season. As far as my conversations with Jimmie and Jeff, they've been great. Those guys are excited about having me a part of their program and I'm excited about being a part of the deal. It's kind of funny. It's a little bit of a difficult scenario because in one aspect, Brian's also a good friend of mine too and a good friend of theirs. I think they hate to see Brian leave but at the same time they're happy to see me come. Brian and I have talked a lot; last night we went and had pizza. So we're still good friends and that won't change our personal relationship. He's pretty clear that he wants to go and do something different and I'm pretty clear that I'd like to have that ride.
Why are you calling another team owner for advice?
If you were in my position as a driver you wouldn't think that he would have a pretty good idea of. he's been around the sport for a long time. To me it's pretty clear. To have a guy like that that's a friend to call for advice. He wasn't the only guy I called. It wasn't like that. I called my dad, obviously, week in and week out. I talked to my uncle a lot. It wasn't like I leaned on him (Rick) all the time to make all my decisions at all. But when you're making big decisions that are career decisions you call people you respect and want their opinions. The main reason why I called Rick was because I didn't think that was an option anyway, to go to Hendrick. I knew that he had his four drivers and I knew that he was very confident and that's the direction he was going to go. Basically it was a guy that's been in the sport for a long time. I don't know any other team owners or anybody out in that position that would know what other guys do. So yeah, I used him as a little bit of a sounding board. It wasn't gospel, at the end of the day it wasn't how I made my decision but it was a guy whose opinion I respected and I gave him a call.
How will you get along with Kyle - will you have the cars in the same shop?
I don't really know on a lot of that yet, a lot of things have been discussed but I don't know if that's an option. At the end of the day whether or not we're in the same shop, it's four cars on the same team and we'll have to all get along. I think the deal with Kyle. there really isn't much of an issue there if you think about it. We had never really talked, to be honest. Any talking we did was he heard what I said in the media and I heard what he said in the media. We actually sat down and talked the other day and it went well. I mean, we really don't even know each other. The fact that things were kind of built up. do I agree with the way a lot of stuff went down? No. At the same time can we get along and be teammates? Absolutely. I just have to see how it goes and get to know the guy a little better.
What surprised you about Kyle when you talked to him?
Well, any talking that we did prior to anything that went down on the track, we always got along. I didn't have an issue with him. He seemed like a pretty nice guy. I really didn't have an issue with him before or really after all this stuff went down. People just asked me questions on my opinion of how things went down on the track. I gave them my opinion but personally I haven't had an issue with him regardless. Nothing that happened on the track really affected me in any way. Any of the times we got into it on the track it never directly affected me. Obviously the incident there at Charlotte when I lost it and it took him out, I felt bad about that. He reacted in a way that I wouldn't have reacted in but at the same time it didn't affect me. It didn't hurt the remainder of my race or the way that I finished that day. Any time I got questions about that it was just my opinion on how I would have reacted vs. how he reacted but I didn't have an issue with him personally because we hadn't even talked.
On leaving Chip Ganassi:
That was one of the things which made this decision so difficult. I've been with Chip now going on four years at the end of this year. There's a lot of guys there that I've developed really good relationships with. I've got some close friends there that work on the Ganassi organization. Chip and Felix (Sabates) have been really great but I don't know that their next step is. I know it's going to be really tough right now. There aren't a lot of drivers to pick from at the moment. I wish them the best; I hope they can get the best guy out there because they deserve it and Texaco/Havoline deserves it as well. They've been a great sponsor. It's tough because I know that making the decision I'm making is going to put them in a bit of a situation and you review all that when you're thinking about what you're going to do at the end of the day. I feel like I've made the best decision that's going to help in furthering my career. At the end of the day I hope that they can find someone as well. It's a quality organization. I think that it's definitely moving in the right direction. There's a lot of positive things that can be brought out of the Chip Ganassi organization right now and I hope that they can find a quality guy.
Was Hendrick persuing you or you him?
There really wasn't any pursuing on either direction. I talked to Rick a long time ago... before I ever signed a deal with Chip I was talking to Rick a lot about being in the No. 5 Busch car when Brian ended up getting involved with that. I think it was very clear from the time I met him that I wanted to drive for him one day. We didn't have to have those conversations of "hey, I'd like to drive for you one day." I think the conversations I had with Rick were very neutral because I didn't even think there was an opportunity there. The spots were already filled. Any conversations I had with Rick about just getting his advice on what he thought would be a good direction to go, I thought were very neutral. Just because of that fact I didn't think there was an opportunity there. Out of the blue this deal came up with Brian probably about one or two weeks ago and that all of a sudden opened up a whole new can of worms. The fact that I had been talking to him a little bit and asking his advice, he kind of knew where I was. It just opened up another option.
Where do you see yourself in the organization?
Good question for after Daytona next year. It's hard to say. The one thing I do know now is that if feels like a very natural place to go because of the friendships I do have there. I think if I beat Jimmie and we're not going to be friends, that's not the case. We raced together in the Super Lights off-road when I was 12 or 13 years old. I beat him back then and he beat me. That's just how racing goes. The positive side is that there isn't a communication issue right out of the gate. I don't have to be going to a new team and say "man, I hope I get along with this guy, I hope we're going to communicate. I know right out of the gate there is going to be open communication there and that's a positive thing for sure.
What do you see at Hendrick that Ganassi might not have?
It's not that there's something there that isn't here at Chip's, Chip and I have talked about it several times. Our team's got a lot of growing to do. It's not that it can't get there; is it going to get there this year or next year or the following year. At some point it will get there. Chip is very strong minded and I believe that he's going to get there some day. Right now I was just faced with a current team that's been there, done it, and it's there vs. are we going to get there two or three years from now or maybe next year. I think when you sit down and make your decisions. I was forced into making my decision in a couple of weeks. It wasn't like I could wait till the end of the year or into next year to make the decision. I've got to take everything I have, put it in front of me and figure out what's the best decision right now. That's how I base my decision. Right now Hendrick Motorsports is very arguably one of the best teams in NASCAR and that's why I need to take that opportunity. I think what happens is. it's not a parts and pieces things here. The biggest thing I learned about NASCAR vs. open-wheel where I came from, in open-wheel when things are bad and there's two or three chassis combinations and two or three engine combinations you can go out and kind of see "okay, this chassis' running better, this engine's running better." I'm not saying this is where we're at, but from my experience you could go "okay, I'm going to get these engines next year, I'm going to get these chassis' next year and be competitive." The NASCAR organizations are so much different just because it's so much more in putting the right people in the right places and it just takes time to grow. We've got a lot of good people that work at Ganassi right now and guys with a lot of potential. But I just see it taking a long time to get everything right. I don't know the parts and pieces because I haven't been over to Hendrick yet. Is the grass always greener? I don't know. But with all the information that I had the decision that I made I think is the right one.
What's your plan for this year?
I know I hear that lame duck word getting used a lot in the media. I don't like to look at our situation as a lame-duck deal. Obviously I know we're doing something different next year. I've talked a lot with the guys and the team and even though Jamie is a good friend of mine and was a good teammate for quite a while, I'm not Jamie McMurray, I'm Casey Mears. I'm a different guy. I think the way I'm trying to handle everything with the team and with they guys. the hardest thing about my situation is that these guys have gone through it last year. These guys have been kind of run through the mud and they're kind of getting the same thing this year. That's what makes it very difficult. I've sat down and had a lot of talks with the guys at the shop, the guys on the road crew. We're all in this to try and make that Chase and win races because we know that it's going to benefit everybody. Obviously if I can make the Chase and win races it makes me look better. If we can make the Chase and win races from a team aspect it makes the team look better and easier for another driver to get into that car. We're all working hard and harder than we ever would have to try to have good races this year, win some races and make the Chase. As far as making a change before the year is out, in the near future I really don't see that happening. I'd never rule anything out because anything is possible in this sport and I've seen some crazy things happen in the past, but right now I've got a commitment to Texaco/Havoline and the Ganassi organization to fill the end of this year and right now that's the plan.
What was your reaction when Rick told you Brian was leaving?
Just surprise. I didn't know what to think because I didn't know what his next comments would be - "Brian's leaving but we don't want you." I don't know. It's a lot of mixed emotions, really. I think about it from Brian's standpoint. I don't know what he's thinking at the time. He's a good friend of mine and I was thinking "man, that's a big decision" but at the same time I'm thinking "hey, that might be a great opportunity for me." Obviously I'm excited about it. It's tough in one breath to say obviously we want to do the best job we can this year and I still really enjoy where I'm at. I really like the guys where I'm at, I love the sponsor where I'm at. It's hard to say that in one breath and then say "I'm very excited about going and doing this other deal." But I am. I'm very excited about it. I can't wait to get started next season but at the same time I've got to hold back the reins and do the best job I can the remainder of this season.