NASCAR

Casey Mears now family expert on stock cars - at 24

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foxsports admin

 
   
 

NASHVILLE, Tenn.

Casey Mears is the undisputed family

expert on stock cars.

Whenever uncle Rick, four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500,

and father Roger, an off-road racer, have a question about NASCAR,

Casey is the relative they turn to for a quick answer.

His experience? Less than a year, or 32 races.

It's a role reversal that is particularly sweet for the

24-year-old Casey, considering how much advice he has sought from

them.

"This is kind of a whole new venue for all of us. Dad raced

stock cars in the past, and my uncle raced in IROC. But I've raced

stock cars now more than anybody else has in our family. It's kind

of neat," Casey Mears said.

"I can let them know about things happening here, and it's fun

for me. I think it's fun for them to be able to lay back, watch and

listen."

Casey is wrapping up his first year in the NASCAR Busch Series

after spending his life racing everything else with wheels. But it

truly has been a rookie season because he had driven a stock car

just once, in an ARCA race, before joining this series last

November at Homestead.

It hasn't been the easiest debut.

He joined the Phillips 66 Performance Team, replacing Geoff

Bodine for the final race of the season for Welliver-Jesel

Motorsports. The team picked up a rookie driver for the 2002 season

and switched from Chevrolet to Dodge.

Mears is the lowest driver in the points standings despite

having run in all 30 races this season. His best finish - fifth at

Talladega in April - is his only top five. He has four top 15s

despite starting in the top eight five different times.

He has been caught up in wrecks and slowed by valve spring

failures in up to 10 races during his on-the-job training.

Crew chief Donnie Richeson thinks things have progressed as well

as he had hoped for this year.

"We've made leaps and bounds really. The sorry part is the

results just aren't there in the newspaper on Sunday," he said.

Mears admits he has had some differences driving a stock car as

opposed to the open-wheel cars of the Indy Racing League and CART.

But the slower speeds has eased his learning curve with the biggest

problem adapting to ovals instead of mostly road and street

courses.

"I'm happy with the year overall. As a driver, I'm unhappy. I

want to be winning races, but that's what we're working at," he

said.

Mears certainly knows how to race. He was only 4 when he started

racing bicycles and moved up to all-terrain vehicles in 1984. He

raced go-karts in 1991, then tried off-road and USAC where he won

the championship in 1995.

He went to the Indy Lights Championship Series in 1996 and

finished second in the points championship in 1999 where he became

just the fourth driver in that series' history to complete every

lap in a season.

He tested Indy cars for several teams in 2000 and debuted in

CART with a fourth-place finish at California Speedway for Team

Rahal. He ran three IRL races in 2001 and finished the season by

filling in for the injured Alex Zanardi in CART.

Then came a tough decision. Mears had opportunities to race in

both open-wheel and stock cars, so he talked with his father and

his uncle. Both told him to switch to NASCAR.

Rick Mears was working with Roger Penske at the time and knew

his boss was switching from CART to IRL for the 2002 season. Roger

Mears was working for Chip Ganassi in North Carolina and saw the

popularity of NASCAR up close.

Casey hasn't regretted his switch.

"I think I found a home. I'm really happy in stock cars. I mean

you show up at Daytona, and there's tons of people. You think, `Oh,

this is Daytona.' Then you go to the next race, and there's tons of

people. You realize you're in the right spot," he said.

NASCAR also offers the chance to race much more than the

open-wheel series. The IRL had just 15 races in 2001 and CART has

19.

"Getting to race every weekend is for me. I'm young. I want to

race every weekend," said Mears, who hopes to start running some

Winston Cup races next season in addition to the Busch Series.

Being a Mears, winning the Indianapolis 500 remains a special

goal. The Brickyard 400 just wouldn't be the same, so he hopes to

add his name to the list of drivers who have driven at Indy and

NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

"I'm pretty happy. I like where I am. I'm not planning on going

anywhere for a long time if I can help it," Mears said.

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