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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 5, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for coming out to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test here at Lowe's Motor Speedway. We're pleased to be joined in the infield media center by Casey Mears. He drives the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet.
Casey, of course, last year at the Coca-Cola 600 drove it into victory lane, and Casey, your thoughts about the test that's upcoming, and then also you've got a couple events here later this month at Lowe's, and your general thoughts about the test here at Lowe's.
CASEY MEARS: Well, first off, I'm excited about it, to get a good opportunity to test here. You know, it was unexpected, obviously scheduled in a little bit last minute, but we were pleased with that. We struggled a little bit with Texas and Atlanta and feel like we learned some good things at Nashville last week and looking forward to seeing how they apply here to Charlotte.
The mile and a half tracks are the ones that have been tricky for us this year to get down, and we're looking forward to getting some track time for sure in this test.
As far as the All-Star race and the 600, just always look forward to that, coming back, obviously being here in Charlotte, being able to stay at home, and everybody kind of considers this their backyard, so it's a big pride thing to win the All-Star race, and hopefully we can come back and hold our title for the 600.
Q. I hate to put you on the spot right away, but what happened with the 55, both what started it, and then could you just comment on his retaliation after?
CASEY MEARS: Well, I think initially it was our fault. I mean, I wasn't aware that he was on the outside of me. I don't know if we just had a radio problem or what happened there, but we were kind of running by ourselves there for quite a while, and I think the 55 came out on new tires and was running us down and I just wasn't aware of it, and I came off of 4 and hit him and I had no idea he was there.
I can understand why he'd be upset, because it definitely wasn't really his doing. But obviously afterwards what he did wasn't right. I can understand the emotion and being upset, but you definitely don't want to do something like that. Obviously he realizes that, too, and we'll all move on.
Q. Can you talk about what your mom has meant to you in your racing career and what she does for you these days?
CASEY MEARS: Yeah, she's been obviously the most important lady in my life, growing up obviously has done a lot of things for me. To this day she still works for CMI, which is basically covering a lot of my bills and some scheduling and doing things like that. You know, she's done things for me forever. I think I've got a pretty fortunate relationship with my mom where a lot of people kind of, you know, don't have that relationship with their parents.
I still talk to them almost every day, every other day, whether it's business or just hanging out. We all went on a Harley ride yesterday together, had a good time, so she's definitely very important in my life.
Q. Did you feel that NASCAR's parking Michael was justified, and are you comfortable with that penalty, or do you think there should have been more or less?
CASEY MEARS: You know, honestly I was just so mad that we got in a wreck, period, I hadn't even thought about it. The last thing we needed was a result like that. We need to continue to kind of more forward in the points, and we're sitting in a good position to move up to about 18th or 19th in points with where we were running on the track at the time, and we ended up getting stuck at 23rd. Honestly, I was just so frustrated with the fact that we got in a wreck. I didn't have time to get mad at Michael, I was just mad at being crashed.
Obviously looking back on it, it was something that wasn't right. The fact that they parked him I think was pretty sufficient.
Q. You've run a couple of races now in the new car at the mile-and-a-half tracks. How different is it compared to the car you drove to the victory last year here?
CASEY MEARS: It's quite a bit different. I mean, at the end of the day, you see a lot of the same similarities. The car is still good aero tight. The speeds are pretty similar. We're getting around the tracks pretty well. I just think in a pack it's a little bit more difficult to drive. It seems like when someone is on the outside of you they tend to get a lot looser. The aero tight is a good bit worse as far as trying to close in on somebody.
We've been slowly chipping away at that. We've been kind of getting the cars better, which has made all of that better. But at the end of the day they've been a little bit more difficult to drive, and I think that's some reason why the tracks are opening up into more grooves, because the guys are just trying to get away from each other to try to figure out a way to get around. It presents a lot of new challenges, and we've been fighting that this year on the mile and a halfs, and I can't wait for this test. I really think that it's going to be valuable for us.
Q. Since your win here last year, is there any part of you that feels even just a lit bit of pressure to kind of back that up with another one, just to prove that wasn't a fluke? And the second part is Darian is gone now working with the 88 guys. How important was that relationship with him just when you guys were starting to build some chemistry?
CASEY MEARS: As far as the pressure, I mean, I feel pressure to win every weekend. That's our job and that's what we focus on. You know, I won't feel any differently going into the 600. It feels good to come back to a race that we won last year and getting the recognition for that. But our job is to do that again. I don't really feel any additional pressure, but it definitely makes you want to win it maybe a little bit more.
As far as Darian, I mean, he's still a key asset to the whole 5 and 88 group, still working closely with everybody in the whole shop, obviously sits on top of the box when it comes to race day with the 88. But shoot, he's in all the meetings, still talk with him quite a bit. I don't really feel like I miss him because he's still kind of there. But at the same time, he did a great job for us last year, stepping in last-minute like he did, and obviously doing a good job this year, as well.
Q. In the last week or two we've had a lot of discussion about Tony Stewart and his contract situation moving forward, and your name has popped up a couple times in different discussions just because of the fact that he's going to be a free agent and obviously that would be a big coup. How do you feel about your position at Hendrick going forward, and do you think you're solid in there for the foreseeable future?
CASEY MEARS: No, I feel good. We're solid for next year and definitely focused on moving forward. Rick has stated that several times, that things are where they're going to be, and we're moving forward for next year. We're just getting started again.
It's kind of an unfortunate thing, but it seems like I'm in this situation almost every year a little bit, just because I'm constantly changing teams and I'm constantly spending the first half of the season just trying to grow and learn with that new team. I think the biggest thing that obviously we need to see happen with the 5 team is that it stays consistent, obviously get this full year under our belt.
Alan and I were just talking the other day how we feel like we're just now kind of starting to feel like we're getting on the same page, and I think with the things that we've been learning lately and the way that we've been moving up in points, we've just got to continue to do that, focus on having a good year, hopefully win some races before the year is out and have something good and strong to build on for next season.
Q. It seems like more than any other year, this particular car is doing some really door-to-door kind of racing. Is it a product of the car in your mind, or is it (indiscernible)?
CASEY MEARS: You know, I think you see a lot of that at Talladega, the Superspeedway. Obviously we're really tight, really close side by side. When you get to places like Martinsville and Bristol, the racing is very similar to how it's always been, which is tight and close and side by side.
I think when you get to these bigger tracks when the aero kind of comes into effect, you see us a little bit further apart. That's my view of it. We're just not quite as side by side just because it's not as comfortable to run side by side with these cars.
But they put on some good shows this year, definitely had some good finishes last year with it. I think the biggest thing is that the teams continue to grow and learn more about these cars, and the more they do, the better we're going to get.
The one thing they have done is definitely put us in a tighter box. When you look at qualifying times at a lot of the tracks, it's a lot smaller spread from the pole to let's say 25th than it ever was. Definitely all the cars are a lot closer. And in doing that, what it does is everybody is so much closer, you know, a half a tenth or a tenth is a lot bigger than it used to be. So what happens is you don't see the big disparity between the cars. That's why you end up seeing guys side by side, because they can't pass because they're just that much closer. I think it makes it exciting for the fans, it makes it difficult for the drivers to be able to complete a pass and make things go. But at the same time as long as we're putting on a good show and everybody has got all the same stuff, it doesn't matter.
Q. You talked about your parents supporting you and still paying some of the bills and so forth. You know, one of the questions I always get from a lot of people right now because NASCAR has grown so big, gee, how can I get my son started and how can I afford to get him started? What's the best way to go? I know that's a tough question, especially in today's economy, but do you have any suggestions for parents that we can pass along to them if their kids want to get involved?
CASEY MEARS: It's very difficult. I think these days racing at every level is very expensive, and I think once -- you know, my dad paid when I raced quads and three-wheelers and four-wheelers and things like that, and when I got into go-karts he took care of it. Once I got much past go-karts we had to go out and find some sponsorships.
I was fortunate that my family was already in motorsports. Sometimes when he would get sponsors for his truck series, we would maybe tag a little bit of sponsorship on for my go-kart racing or for some off-road racing, and that's kind of how we worked it, but it is very difficult.
The best way to do it is get them started in something early like a go-kart that is affordable. You can go out and go racing, whether it's a boy or a girl, and if they do good and they have some success, you have something to sell. And you just start going to local areas and trying to find a little bit of sponsorship to make it to that next step.
There's no real solid path. I think you see a lot of these days that a lot of guys in the Cup Series come from all over the place, whether it be open-wheel series or midgets or sprint cars or the local short tracks, running their modifieds or dirt late models and regular late models, from there on up.
There's a lot of different avenues these days. The big thing is that they get a place that's probably the most affordable for you and get a lot of racing under your belt. The biggest thing is just getting that seat time, and that's one thing at an early age I wish I would have done a little bit more of is gotten to a series where I just ran a lot of races throughout the year.
It is a difficult question, but that's kind of the way we did it. We just went out and tried to find sponsorships to cover that stuff, and did it a little bit as we could.
Q. Coming from a racing family, was there a point in time when you were growing up that your family -- you noticed or your family noticed that you had the ability to race, and how much of that do you think was inherited or how much of it was learned or expected?
CASEY MEARS: You know, my family actually distracted me from racing. Obviously my uncle did well; he got with a great ride with Roger Penske and they always had great sponsors and ran really well and has a great history. My dad has had a lot of success, too, but I think living it firsthand and see how difficult and how fickle the sport can be, there were several times where my dad had very good sponsors and the sponsor ended up going out of business and he loses his ride.
There's a lot of scenarios in racing that's difficult. It's tough to get to the top, and I think that as I was growing up they tried to distract me away from racing. But obviously being around it so much, I slowly got into it, or I guess quickly got into it with three-wheelers and four-wheelers and quads and at a young age started winning quite a few races. And once I decided that it was something that I really wanted to pursue, I was about 12 or 13 years old when I decided it was something I really wanted to go through with, my mom and dad and everybody in the family got 110 percent behind me and we started to try to make that happen.
But it wasn't until I was about 12 or 13 that they decided to go ahead and get behind me. They tried to get me to do something different because they know how difficult it is, but fortunately it went this direction.
Q. You spoke earlier of the difficulty of driving the new cars. It's been shown that obviously NASCAR did a great job making them safe. Are there things that can be done for 2009 that would make the car race better and get rid of some of this aero push?
CASEY MEARS: That's a good question. I mean, I think that there's definitely things we could do. Standing up here and saying that they can do something and not have a solution for it doesn't really sound great, but there definitely are some things we could probably do to make them a little bit better. I leave that stuff more up to the engineers and crew chiefs to try to figure all that out.
I think right now we've got a good product. It's putting on good races, we're having fun with it. But I think to think that anything can come out brand new and it be perfect right out of the gate, I think everybody knows that's not the case.
It's a great car; like you said, it's a safe product. We put on some good races with it and some good shows, but is there room for improvement, absolutely, and obviously I think that they're considering that and all the teams are looking at it, as well. Hopefully we can come up with a few things that make it a little bit better going into next season. Not that it's a bad car, but definitely we can make some improvements.
THE MODERATOR: Casey, thanks a lot. Continued best of luck and appreciate your time today.
CASEY MEARS: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We'll roll right into the second half of today's press conference and also part of our national teleconference. We're pleased to be joined by David Ragan. He drives the No. 6 AAA Ford, and David is quietly having a very, very good season. He's 14th in points, inching up towards that 12th spot.
David, I know you've also done a tire test here at Lowe's Motor Speedway last year here in the new car. Your thoughts about that. And I know you've got to be looking forward to getting some more track time out there this weekend and also looking ahead to Darlington.
DAVID RAGAN: I was very impressed with the way our AAA Ford handled last year during the Goodyear tire test. You know, a year ago we had a lot of questions about the Car of Tomorrow and the mile-and-a-half tracks, and it really was fun to drive, easy to drive, and I felt like it had some pretty good speed in the last year, last fall. So I was very excited to be a part of the Goodyear test last year. I had a lot of fun, and hopefully some of the notes and some of the information we learned last year will carry over to this weekend, certainly Charlotte.
Lowe's Motor Speedway is an exciting track with a lot of speed. Since the new asphalt has been down for a few years it's aging pretty nice. Last year in the fall race you saw a lot of two-wide, three-wide racing, a lot of guys using the top groove and the bottom groove.
Looking forward to getting on the track this afternoon and looks like the weather is going to be nice for the next couple of days, and looking forward to making some laps.
Q. What are your thoughts to heading over to Darlington this Saturday night for a night race with a brand new track surface, as well?
DAVID RAGAN: Certainly a lot of anticipation from our side. My teammate Greg Biffle got to test there a few weeks ago and said the track is really, really smooth, got a lot of speed in it, and only time will tell how the asphalt and how the weather is and how the tires are that Goodyear brings next week. Obviously you guys are familiar with Charlotte, Las Vegas being paved in the last few years and the situation that we have with Goodyear bringing a real hard tire that's really tough for us to get a handle on, and we kind of struggle through the weekend sometimes.
Hopefully they've learned, and we've got a pretty aggressive tire for this weekend coming up. Hopefully it's kind of like old Darlington, where you can go really fast for a few laps and then the speeds fall off and the times fall off, and you see the good old racing and slipping and sliding.
I haven't made a lap on the new track surface. In my Nationwide car on Thursday will be the first time that I'll make a lap around the new track. Looking forward to it, but hopefully they kept some of the same characteristics that everyone knows of Darlington to be.
Q. You sort of caught some people off-guard by your performance this year, pretty high up in points. Do you think you have a chance of making the Chase?
DAVID RAGAN: Certainly, I think we have a chance. I think a lot of people have a chance of making the Chase. It's just a matter of what we do with our chance. We've got to continue to perform like we have.
I've got to keep working on not making mistakes inside the race car. I think we've got a great pit crew on Pit Road that we can depend on when I come down, Jimmy Fennig has been making a lot of the right calls. Things have just been working our way. Very easily we could be 25th in points right now if a couple of DNFs and things hadn't gone our way sometimes, and we could easily be 8th in points right now or 7th in points if I wouldn't have had the DNF at Daytona and a couple of runs.
Anyway, we've got to keep working hard, doing what we know is right. I've got to keep running all the laps, not making mistakes and not finishing races, and ultimately you can average a 15th place finish and make the Chase. You just can't have a bunch of DNFs, so that's what we're trying to do.
Q. You were down at Rockingham yesterday, did a good job in the booth, by the way. What's your opinion of the track? I know you haven't raced there, but did you like it and would you like to have a chance to get your Nationwide car out there if they can give you a date sometime in the future?
DAVID RAGAN: I would love to, one, because it's close to home and you wouldn't have to drive very far and all the friends and family could come over there and watch you. I'd trade a date on the west coast in a heartbeat to run Rockingham.
It was a lot of fun, though, to answer your question. I had a good time over there, saw a lot of familiar faces. The track looked great. I had only been there one time several years ago as just a young kid as a race fan, and I was kind of thinking in the back of my mind before we pulled up to the racetrack, you know, I've seen North Wilkesboro in the last couple years or seen some of the other tracks and I didn't know how it was going to look, but it looked great. It looked better than some of the current tracks we go to on the Cup schedule right now. The asphalt looked good, the garages were nice. I sat in the grandstands, went up to the booth for a little while, and everything was first class. The food was good up top, and I really had a good time.
Q. The first two -- I should say Atlanta and Texas, I guess, similar tracks. After the race a lot of drivers complained, just hard to drive, they were worn out, it wasn't easy. We've got to do it for 600 miles here at the end of May. What are your thoughts on that, and do you do anything to prepare for that extra 500 miles?
DAVID RAGAN: (Laughing) well, the sport, we didn't sign up for something that was easy coming into it. We knew it was going to be difficult and knew it was going to be challenging, and that's why Humpy is going to have 150,000 people here watching him, because it's going to be a lot of fun for 600 miles.
But certainly we'll probably be a little more cautious at the beginning. Obviously the same old story, starting during the day and ending at night, we'll have to adjust our cars throughout the evening, and as a driver I have to pace myself and really not wear myself out mentally or physically in the first 300 or 400 miles and just be around at the end.
But I think these cars on the mile-and-a-half tracks have been tough to drive, but that's something that will get better in the future, and obviously we all have the same rules to work with. We all have the same guidelines and the same race cars to work with, and it's just a matter of who does the best job on Sunday and they'll get the win. Guys like Kyle Busch and my teammate Carl Edwards, they've been doing a great job and they've got some wins and some good finishes.
Like I said, it's a tough sport; no need to complain about it, just go out and do the best you can.
Q. Qualifying this past week, past two weeks, you guys have been up towards the top. Has there been any one thing that's really made a difference between now and maybe a year ago from qualifying standpoint for you guys?
DAVID RAGAN: Well, definitely we have qualified a lot better, and at the end of last year that's one of the things we sat down and looked at as something that could help our race team and help our finishes. We had some good cars on occasion, but qualifying in the back, having poor track position the whole race, we were never in a position to show everyone what we had. So that's one of the things that we tried to work on harder.
I've just got a better feel for what I need to go fast for two laps. We've been doing for qualifying runs, where last year we've been locked into the top 35 in points from day one. Usually we've just done all race runs for qualifying practice, and every now and then we'd squeeze in a qualifying run toward the end and just didn't qualify well at all last year. So that's one of the things we really have tried to work on, and it's shown.
I think our average qualifying spot this year is about 14th or 15th or something like that, so that certainly helps a lot, even when you don't have a great race car. If you qualify up front and can keep good track position all day, it certainly makes 400 or 500 miles a lot easier on Sunday.
Q. Testing at Lowe's, then going over to race at Darlington, can you explain to the average fan, how do you as a driver adjust so quickly from the difference of testing at Lowe's, then five days later racing at Darlington, and of course this year all with the new car?
DAVID RAGAN: Well, it's not going to be a big adjustment racing here, and we'll probably be able to learn some things from here that we can carry over to Darlington. But you just get in the mindset, you race here, you think about last year's two races here and how they went and try to get your car to feel good and handle good. And obviously track conditions are going to be different when we come back here in a few weeks, probably going to be a little hotter, more rubber on the track. So today is just all about trying some things that we normally wouldn't have time to try on a race weekend. We've got two days to try a lot of cool stuff and different things and some stuff that engineering has planned for us.
And then going to Darlington this weekend, I'll probably get a copy of the test plan from the 16 Team from when they tested there a few weeks ago and just try to study a little bit and get my mind on Darlington on a one-mile track. But it won't be too bad to go from Darlington to Charlotte.
Q. About your good season thus far, do you think confidence follows performance, or has your confidence always been solid and the success has come from that?
DAVID RAGAN: Well, certainly I've always had a lot of confidence because of the people around me on my race team, and I knew that if we just did our jobs, and including myself, we could go out and run well. I think better runs and finishing races and higher position in points certainly does add confidence, and it's all in a circle. Running well on the Nationwide series on a Friday or Saturday night before the Cup race adds confidence, not only for myself but for the team members and everyone.
Yeah, we've always had confidence in our team. We knew we could get the job done, just a matter of taking care of the particulars and not making mistakes. We've done more of the right things this year, which has led to better runs and more confidence.
THE MODERATOR: This concludes our national teleconference today. We appreciate Casey and David Ragan participating, and we wish you guys the best of luck at the test and at Darlington.
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