Texas: Mears, Kahne - Dodge Friday interview

CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger) NOTE: Mears finished fourth in both NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races in 2005 at Texas Motor Speedway. Mears and Jimmie Johnson tied for the best average finish at TMS in 2005. Johnson finished third and...

CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger)

NOTE: Mears finished fourth in both NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races in 2005 at Texas Motor Speedway. Mears and Jimmie Johnson tied for the best average finish at TMS in 2005. Johnson finished third and fifth. Making his 115th career start on Sunday at TMS, Mears will be gunning for his first Cup victory. He finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500 in February. Mears scored top-10 finishes in the first three races in 2006 and has finished 21st, 25th and 27th in the last three. Mears holds 10th-place in the series standings, 209 points behind points' leader Jimmie Johnson.

COMMENT ON TMS "It's starting to widen out now, and I think it's becoming a better racetrack. I enjoy it a lot. Some guys do and some guys don't, but I really enjoy the track."

WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE 42 TEAM THIS YEAR? "It's funny, but our performance on the track really isn't a whole lot different. We just got off to a really good start opposed to the bad luck we had to start last year. We had a good finish at Daytona and two good finishes to back it up. It got us in a position in the points where we could maintain rather than fight back to get back in the top 10. Unfortunately, the last three races we've fallen back and we're in a position now where we need to get some good races under our belt to maintain that top 10 standing. As far as the 42 team, it's not that much more organized. It's not that Donnie (crew chief Wingo) is that much better than Jimmy (crew chief Elledge). I just feel like we're utilizing how we finished off last year. Because it's the same team and same organization all the same setups and stuff applies from last year and we're just carrying on with that."

IS THIS A TRACK WHERE YOU CAN TURN IT AROUND? "After the three races we've had, we couldn't be coming back to a better place as far as we're concerned. Not only did the 41 run good here last year, but the 40 and 42 ran good here, too. This has been a good track for our whole organization, and I think it'll be a good place to get back on track."

ANY PLANS FOR THE OFF WEEKEND COMING UP? "I don't know if they ever come at a perfect time, but we'll be happy to have an off weekend and refresh our batteries and get ready for that long stretch coming up. It's nice when you've got a long stretch of races coming up and an off weekend to have a good weekend to think about rather than a bad race to think about for a long time. Obviously we want to have a good finish here."

COMMENT ON RACING AT PHOENIX "I've been around Phoenix a lot. It's funny, the last race year before last, we ran really well. We were contending for the win late in the race and blew a tire. As long as we rekindle that I'm looking forward to Phoenix."

WOULD YOU RATHER RUN 10TH IN A 20TH-PLACE CAR OR 20TH IN A 10TH-PLACE CAR? "You'd always rather run 10th in a 20th-place car at the end of the day, but in your mind it's always reassuring to know you've got a 10th-place car. You want to know you're competitive. At the end of the day I think we were competitive at Martinsville. There were about five guys faster than the rest, but we were competitive with the majority of the field. That's what we need to do at the short tracks. At least I know we can go back to Martinsville with something that we can get a good finish with."

IS IT A GOOD FEELING TO KNOW YOU CAN COME HERE AND GET A GOOD FINISH WITH THE CHARGER? "We really haven't been as worried about the Charger as some of the other guys have. Obviously we haven't gone to the extent of running the Intrepid and some of the other stuff. We've been focused on running the Charger and doing the best job we could with it. We still feel like improvements can be made, but at the same time we think we can make it a competitive racecar. From this time on last year we've been focused 100 percent on the Charger. We've developed a package mechanically that helps the car aerodynamically. Right now we don't feel like we have as much leeway with the car mechanically because of where we're at aerowise. We've figured out some ways to manipulate the car to maintain an attitude that helps our nose. It's not optimum, but we know we can be competitive with it."

DID IT SURPRISE YOU HOW GOOD YOU WERE HERE LAST YEAR? "I think we were as surprised as everybody else was. We just all had a good day. I don't know if it was our body package that worked. I know all the cars were similar setup wise. There's not one thing I can pick out about this track that suits my style, but I do like the higher speeds. I like Texas, Atlanta, Charlotte, places where you carry a lot of speed and you've got to get the car to handle. The racing is fun and the track usually gives you a lot of options as far as the passing goes. I just really enjoy the speeds. I always look forward to it here, and as well as we ran yesterday in the Busch car, we've already got the weekend off to a good start. A lot of setups we're using on the Busch car we're thinking about using on the Cup car."

HOW SPECIAL WOULD A WIN BE HERE FOR YOU? "A win anywhere would be special for me right now. I'm going into my fourth year, and I feel like I'm in my second year or year and a half of being competitive. I just want to get that monkey off my back and get that first win and focus on going on down the road."

WHAT WAS IT LIKE YOUR ROOKIE SEASON? "When I came in to this sport the stock car side of things was so new to me. They pounded into my head that I had to earn respect. I tried to stay clean, and maybe sometimes I wasn't as aggressive with guys that were more aggressive with me. At the same time, you've got to be careful with that. If you're too easy on guys they'll take advantage of you. I was probably overly cautious my first couple of years. Some of the younger guys now coming in are probably more aggressive, but at the end of the day when you really think about it, we're here to get a job done. I think you need to have a lot of respect for the guys that have been around here a long time, but at the same time, the sport is more demanding than it ever has been. If you don't perform out of the gate you may not be here for very long. Those guys are under more pressure. In the past it was like 'you'll start racing and maybe in three or four years you'll be competitive.' People expect you to be competitive your first year out now. Some of the older guys get frustrated with the younger guys being more aggressive because they have that old mentality that you've got time. Well, time isn't a luxury you have in this sport now. Some of the younger guys have to go harder sooner."

IS IT IMPORTANT CAR TO QUALIFY UP FRONT HERE? "Well, if you've got a good car it's not tough to pass. I think last year we qualified 30th and I think before the first caution we were inside the top 10. If you've got a good car it's not really an issue. You want to qualify well because it makes it that much easier in the race, but it's not as big an issue as it has been say three years ago here."

IT'S A LONG SEASON BUT YOU'VE GOT ONLY 20 MORE RACES TO QUALIFY FOR THE CHASE. "We're definitely looking to maintain the top 10 until that 26th race. Obviously we want to win races, but the biggest thing is we don't want to make mistakes and lose points. We want to get 100-120 points week in and week out. Bristol and Martinsville were a pretty big blow, and not running good at Atlanta hurt us. I think we're going to a lot of tracks now where we know we can be competitive. If we just play it smart and stay out of trouble we should be fine."

COMMENT ON AN EXCESS OF TOP 10 TEAMS "Look at Greg Biffle. He's definitely got a top 10 team, but he started the season like we did last year. We got off to a lot better start, and they're having the start we had last year. There are a lot of teams like that -- top 10 teams that are victims of circumstances. This is the toughest series in the world, so just because I'm in the top 10 doesn't make it more difficult."

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KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)

NOTE: Kahne ranks fourth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings after six races. He has two career victories in 78 starts with a win and pole to his credit already in 2006. He has three top fives and four top 10s in 2006 and has a career-best finish of second at TMS.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEXAS AND ATLANTA? "It's definitely different, the way the banking changes here getting into the corners is a big difference in the two tracks. That's something I've got to definitely figure out to go fast. Texas is a great track. Your tires wear out you stay out so long and you can move from the top to the bottom and have a lot of fun. You can find the best spot for your racecar. I think our Dodge Charger is going to be pretty good. The track will tighten up a little bit as the weekend goes along, other than that you'll just have to stay caught up with the track."

COMMENT ON THE ORGANIZATION OF YOUR TEAM "My team and myself have had some great testing during the off season, and we get along. We haven't worked together, but I've known all those guys for awhile and we just hit it off quick. I think it's a great structure the way Ray (owner Evernham) did it this year. Obviously the way we're doing it is different than other teams. At the same time it's not as different as people think. We still have a lot of the same people in place. We just have one more guy making a lot of the calls. We had a really tough season in '05 and learned a lot from it. This is a big season for myself and our whole team. For us to get in that Chase and win races this year is what we need to do. So far we've done a good job getting there. We just need to keep it up for all 36 races."

COMMENT ON LAST SEASON "I was frustrated most of the year, trying to figure out how to get through that stuff and go fast and not have the problems we had. By the end of the year I just wanted to leave, take two weeks off and forgot about racing for a little while. That's what I did and ever since then we've been focusing on how to go fast, and I think it's worked out well."

ARE YOU SURPRISED TEAMS CAME HERE WITH INTREPIDS THIS WEEKEND? "Yeah, I'm real surprised. I can't believe anybody would come here with an Intrepid. I guess they're sticking to their guns and want to race the Intrepid. I've driven them both, and the Charger has really come a long way in the last year. It depends on what you do to each car, but definitely for Evernham Motorsports the Charger is the car to have."

WHAT'S THE PLAN FOR THE OFF WEEKEND? "I'm going to go relax somewhere and have a good time."

COMMENT ON RACING AT NIGHT AT PHOENIX "Last year we struggled and the year before that we ran fourth or fifth. It's a track I know well and like. I raced a lot of races there before I got into NASCAR, and I look forward to going there because it's such a different racetrack than we usually race at. It's flat and the corners are different. The speeds are a lot lower than at Texas. We've just got to figure out how to go fast, and I think with the team I'm with this year we will."

COMMENT ON NASCAR'S LIMITED TESTING POLICY "If you were to test here you'd start out better than you're going to without testing. That's just the way it is. You learn a lot during two days of testing. That's good they cut back. So many things have been going on the last year so to cut back a little bit on testing I don't think is a bad thing."

COMMENT ON RACING AGAINST MARK MARTIN "Mark is a great racecar driver. He has a lot of experience and he's a great guy to race with. If he's in the sport he's going to be up front. That's just the way it is. He's got a lot of good people behind him, and he's a good leader. If he's in Nextel Cup he's going to be a guy you're going to have to beat. That's just the way it is."

COMMENT ON TEXAS RACE FANS "They're the best fans around. Tracks all over have great race fans, but you come to Texas and there's as many people here as you'll see at any other track, and they really get into the racing."

-dodge motorsports

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Greg Biffle , Jimmie Johnson