CASEY MEARS (No. 41 Target Dodge) "I think we're really happy with the improvement from last year. Being 35th in the points last year and struggling like we did being my first year in Cup I had so much to learn. To be able to come back now with...
CASEY MEARS (No. 41 Target Dodge)
"I think we're really happy with the improvement from last year. Being 35th in the points last year and struggling like we did being my first year in Cup I had so much to learn. To be able to come back now with the same team and improve like we have and continue to run in the top 10 pretty much every weekend... We look back on it today and look back on the problems we've had, parts failures and motor problems and all the things that add up and dropped us out of races this year, if we could have just finished those races where we were running we would be inside the top 10. We've got a very competitive team. At the first of this year if we could have been within the top 20 I would have been elated. Because of how well we've been performing this year, I'm a little disappointed that we're not further up in the points. I'm excited we've got the potential and it's getting better all the time."
DO YOU THINK YOU CAN MAKE UP GROUND IN THE POINTS AT INFINEON? "Absolutely. I've always loved road course racing. I came from that. That's what I ran mostly coming through the ranks in open wheel. I'm really looking forward to it. It's a lot of fun. We didn't qualify well at all. I'm very disappointed with where we qualified. I think it was 29th, and it was horrible. We should have been better than that. We did a lot of race trim stuff in the morning. I felt like our car was really good. I'm looking forward to the race. It's going to be a long day. We've got to go through the pack, but if we can keep the fenders on I think we'll be good."
COMMENT ON NEW TRACK SURFACE "We came here to test and it had so much grip it was unreal. All our gears were changing. We had different rear end gears, different transmissions to accommodate for it. We got here and with the Hoosier rubber on it and a lot of other guys on the track it got a lot slicker than it was. It's obviously a lot better than it was last year. It changed so much from the test it kinda threw us a curveball. I think it'll be good. The packing is going to be better. I know sometimes guys say with the grip it makes them feel more brave and better about their cars. At the same time if you're feeling better about your car and the car is more stable you're able to make those bolder moves and not make mistakes. Hopefully it makes for cleaner racing and makes it easier to pass."
WHAT DID YOU DO TO ADAPT TO NEXTEL CUP RACING? "I think the biggest thing was really slowing myself down. I said that at the beginning of last year that I needed to slow myself down a lot. Well, I needed to slow myself down even more. These cars are just really easy to overdrive. I'm used to driving something 1,400 pounds, 1,500 pounds. Now I'm in something that's 3,400 pounds. That's over double the weight and less tire. It's very easy to overdrive. You can still drive them very hard, but they have their limit and if you go over that limit just a little bit you're losing a lot. Just really learning that, learning to finesse these cars. Indy cars you drive as hard as you possibly can all the time. Every lap is like a qualifying lap. These cars you drive as hard as you can, but don't go over the limit. If you go over the limit a little bit you're going to learn a ton of lap time, so there was a finesse to these cars I had to learn. It took awhile to learn it."
DO SOME DRIVERS HELP YOU? "Right off the bat I'm got Jamie and Sterling to lean on. I would say the guy who helped me the most is Jimmie Johnson. He's been a really good friend of mine for a long time. We raced off-road together. He was the guy I could first go to when I was running Busch and say, 'hey man, what's this track like or what's this tire like or how do I need to approach this?' I remember last year at Richmond at a certain time in the practice session at Richmond he would be out of his car and come over to my car and tell me a couple of things he had just learned. He really went out of his way to help me, and that went a long way"
DOES THIS FEEL LIKE A HOME TRACK FOR YOU? "Yes, it does. Just being in California I already feel like I'm home. I came up here and ran with the Jim Russell Racing School for quite awhile and did most of it down at Laguna Seca, but when they moved up here I came up here and ran a couple of races, so I'm pretty familiar with this area. It feels like coming back home for sure."
COMMENT ON YOUR "DAYS OF OUR LIVES" GUEST ROLE "The first I heard about it was from my PR girl Heather (Kincel). They contacted NASCAR and through NASCAR they approached us. It just worked out. It was a real good deal for Target and a good opportunity for me to do something different. I had a great time. It was a couple of weeks ago we did the shoot (show will air on Wednesday, June 30). It was funny. I got dressed and ready to go. The actors were practicing. They had their papers in their hands going back and forth. They told me to come on it, so I figured we were going to do a couple of practice runs. The first time I did my lines, I kinda messed up my last line. They told me it was good, but they said to do it again. I did it again and everybody started clapping. They're going 'great job.' I said, 'wait a minute. If I had known this was the real deal I would have put a little more into it.' I guess it worked out. I saw a clip the other day and it looked like it turned out all right. I was a little nervous about that."
WHAT WAS THE PLOT? "It was very soap opera. Some girl's boyfriend was tied to a bed somewhere. He had been kidnapped. This girl wants her boyfriend back, and she knows he's a big NASCAR fan. A friend of hers bought the hood of my car at a race and it has a message for her boyfriend to come back home. She's excited I'm driving the car and sending the message to her boyfriend to come back home. It's definitely soap opera."
WHAT WERE YOUR LINES ON THE SOAP OPERA? "I can't remember exactly. It was something like the girl was real excited that I was going to be driving the car and help her out, so I said, 'I'm glad I could help.' Then she went on and said something else and I said something along the lines of 'I'll win it for her today and her boyfriend.' I got a kiss on the cheek and I said, 'I'll see you in victory lane.' It was pretty cheesy, but it was fun."
COMMENT ON FEEDBACK YOU'RE GETTING FROM YOUR TEAM ABOUT PROGRESS "Everything has been really positive. Last year they stuck it out with me and it was a tough season. It says a lot for Chip and the team. I was worried there about three-quarters of the way through the year last year. You hear we're sticking with you, we're going to do this and we're going to do that. Well, I know racing. You've got to put numbers on the board to keep your job. They stuck with me through last year, and this year it's been paying off. I'm real happy. Chip's been excited. Target has been excited, and the team is pumped up. The potential this year is to run a lot better in the points right now, and that's something we can be proud of. Every time we've had a problem we've been running well. When we don't have problems we're in the top 10. It's neat to see the people that stuck it out with me get some reward out of it. It's gratifying for me to run well, but it's also gratifying for the people who stuck with me."
COMMENT ON TURN 10 "Turn 10 is definitely a tough corner. It's one of the fastest corners on the track. There's such a fine line to getting through there and make a bunch of time and going off. It's one of those corners that's really touchy. You get through there and underdrive it just a little bit and you lose a ton of lap time. If you overdrive it you're in the dirt. If you hit it just right you're going to be real fast. I was impressed with Jeff (Gordon) yesterday getting some wheels off in turn 10 and still being able to keep the pole. That's a place where you can lose a ton of lap time if you make a mistake like that. He held on to it and got a good lap."
HOW CLOSE ARE YOU TO WINNING A RACE? "I think we're real close. We led at Atlanta and lost the motor. At Michigan we were nine laps down. We had a chain break on the sway bar. We could have competed. There was a time we started on the inside with Elliott (Sadler) and Sterling in front of me and I felt like I could have passed them at the time. We've had cars that could run in the top five and are capable of winning races. We've just got to dot all the I's and cross all the T's and I think we're a contender. We're a solid contender to be inside the top 10. If we do things right we're a solid top five. If we're on all eight cylinders we can win races."