Casey Mears returns for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at the Lowe's Motor Speedway as the defending race winner. As the fourth member at Hendrick Motorsports, he continues to fight for his own niche, especially against teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears is 26th in the Sprint Cup Series standings with two top-10 finishes in 11 starts. Mears talked about his season, his relationship with his teammates and what he expects in the future recently. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: How do you feel about returning to the Lowe's Motor Speedway?
Mears: 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 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.
Question: How much different is the car you drove to Victory Lane last year and the new Car of Tomorrow?
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 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.
Question: Did winning last year relieve some of the pressure, or do you feel more pressure now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is part of your team?
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.
Question: How secure are you at Hendrick Motorsports, especially with all the talk about Tony Stewart possibly being a free agent at the end of the year?
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.
Question: How much of your racing ability was inherited and how much of it was learned through experience?
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 have a great history. My dad has had a lot of success, too, but I think living it firsthand and seeing 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.
-- Compiled by Don Coble