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NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Brickyard 400

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Brickyard 400

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Daytona 500

Chip Ganassi
Casey Mears
August 7, 2004


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

THE MODERATOR: Now we're joined by our man on the pole, man of the hour, certainly continuing a great Mears tradition here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Casey Mears in the No. 41 Target Dodge who set a track record, shattered a track record, incredible run, 186.293 miles per hour. Just the other drivers that have been in here were congratulating you. They were seemingly equally impressed and stunned. What an incredible qualifying effort. Why don't you take us through it.

CASEY MEARS: Thank you. I mean, we knew we had a really good car in practice and a shot at the pole. But when those guys started running those real fast times right out of the gate, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., put a pretty good number on the board, I'm went, "We're going to have to step up to the plate here." The guys did an awesome job. We never changed one thing on the car from the time we unloaded it. All we did was wipe it down, put tape on it, go qualify with new tires. Real proud of the guys and Jimmy Elledge for making that call to take the same setup we in Pocono and just bring it here. As far as the lap goes, you know, I knew I put in a good lap yesterday, but I felt like I gave some up in certain areas. I knew we were going to have to be at the top of our game and hit all the marks I possibly could. Went into turn one, the thing got a little bit loose, got back on the gas hard, come off of turn one good, but I was a little worried because on new tires, if it gets loose like that, you're worried the next corner it's going to be even looser. A little bit timid in turn two, just a little bit, more than I wanted to be. But got through turn two really well, that gave me the confidence to go ahead and just bury it on into turn three. Turn three just went off. I mean, about the time I got out of the gas, as soon as I turned to get in the corner, I was back wide open, barely cracked the throttle for turn four. Just come off the floor just enough to get the nose to cut. And I knew if I come off of turn four good, we had a really good shot at it, and we did. So it was pretty awesome.

THE MODERATOR: Two weeks in a row on the pole, Pocono. This has to be just for you and your team such a pump to have these kind of weeks going on in a row like this.

CASEY MEARS: It's huge. You know, I mean, last year was such a struggle. I said it a million times. But really it was. I was just so green as a race car driver, as far as driving goes in general and stock cars, you know. I mean, in IndyCars, I just didn't get the seat time that you do over here, running 36, 38 races a year. Running all those races I did last year, running the Busch races really attributed lot to that. And we're really chipping away at it now. You know, I mean, this year I was able to take a lot of experience and go, Okay, now, what was good, what was bad, and start applying it to this year. And it just keeps getting better all the time. You know, we took the same setup we had there at Pocono, brought it here, and it worked great.

THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by Chip Ganassi, who will also want to remark on that qualifying effort and the way the team has come together. You were talking to your Uncle Rick for a few moments before coming in here. What sort of advice with Uncle Rick Mears have to say for you?

CASEY MEARS: You know, just like Rick does, he said just be patient, you know, do the best you can in this Happy Hour to get things right. And then, you know, if things aren't right right off the bat, just remember it's a long race and get your car right, think about where the track is going. That's a big thing here. This track changes a lot. If you continue this track and make the right adjustments for that last pit stop at be good at the end, it's going to be big. He said be patient, be smart, try to make the right calls in getting the car right.

THE MODERATOR: Chip, can you talk about this pole effort for Casey?

CHIP GANASSI: Well, obviously, you know, we had -- we've been working very hard. One of the mantras in our team is to have all three cars -- we try to prepare all three cars equally. You know, that's good when things are good and bad when things are bad. We were lucky, we were fortunate last week, I should say, we had all three cars in the Top 10. Again, this week now all three cars in the Top 10. But, boy, if I had to pick one guy to have to qualify, I'd pick this guy right on my right here. I mean, he's the guy that can qualify. You know, it's just -- it's very nice to be a part of the Mears legacy here at Indianapolis and keep that alive and keep it growing. I'm sure this is -- you know, as you know, Casey and I embarked on this NASCAR project a year or two ago, and it's been a good process. It's been a learning, stepping stone kind of thing. This is just another step along the way. I like this kid and I hope he's driving with us for a long time.

CASEY MEARS: The first I saw -- one thing on that, the first stock car I ever drove, period, was a car for Chip. We went and tested like in 2000, 2001. That was the first opportunity that I ever got in a stock car. And it's kind of cool that we're together today and doing so well.

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions now.

Q. A lot was made, Casey, about the time of day for qualifying. The early runners were supposed to have the advantage. You went out like 25th. Could you tell much difference? Is there any way to compare what happened today?

CASEY MEARS: The track was a little bit slick, but it was actually pretty close to the same temperature that we practiced in yesterday. So when I go to qualify, I kind of -- if you -- historically, if you go out first here, it's the best time to go out. The later you go, the worse it gets. If you kind of put that in your mind, you're giving yourself an excuse right off the bat. You know, so I just went out there and acted like, hey, this track is going to have all the best grip in the world, it's going to be the best track out there, just go out there and try to put the best lap I can in. If you do that, nine times out of ten sometimes you can pull something out. It worked out pretty good.

Q. Were you following the track temperatures up till the time you qualified?

CASEY MEARS: I really wasn't. I wasn't following it, but I overhead Elledge talking to somebody and saying that the temperature was, you know, right about where it was in practice or maybe even a little bit cooler. So just hearing that it was a little bit cooler gave me even more confidence to go ahead and stay on the gas.

Q. Can you talk about standing behind him when you were going to go this way or that way, Chip? You said, "No, let's see it through." Then to see him after making that decision be so successful the last couple of weeks, what does that feel like?

CHIP GANASSI: Well, you know, I remember they used to say that a guy has to drive a hundred stock car races before you can tell what kind of driver he is. We're not even close to that yet. I you know, I think -- obviously we still have a lot to learn. And, you know, this business is not only about driving ability, you know, and it's not only about the team, it's about personalities and people and who you like to work with, who you get on with. That's the nice thing about Casey's and our relationship. So, I mean, you know, I've known Casey since he was probably knee-high, so it's nice to be able, from an owner point of view, provide him with a vehicle, you know, to help his career along. It's great, believe me. His father and I used to race against each other. His uncle and I. So it's nice.

THE MODERATOR: You might want to be getting more of your drivers on soap operas.

CHIP GANASSI: We were looking back, trying to figure out what the turning point was. Yes, that was probably it, the soap opera debut.

CASEY MEARS: I hope I don't have to do much of them things.

Q. Casey, I've heard there is a little bit of Mears family history at this place. Is that a cool thing? Is that pressure? How do you take that?

CASEY MEARS: Yeah, I don't look at it so much as pressure, as just kind of an excitement, you know. I mean, it's exciting come back to a place that has a lot of family heritage. I'm sure there are a lot of people that look at it, well, you know, his uncle was successful here in the past, he should be successful. I think for the most part, people are realistic and they know that I'm a young guy growing up just like everybody else, trying to learn just like everybody else. Fortunately I have a strong family background in racing and I was able to learn some things early. But I think it's just awesome, you know, to be able to come to a place where you're so well-received before you even do well. Just the fans, just because my uncle has done well here, the fans are on your side, a lot of guys are on your side just coming to this track. It's neat to not only give us a good run, but to give the speedway a good run and all the fans and everybody that has supported my family for so long. It's really cool.

Q. Chip, you've had such success in open-wheel. Now you have such success in NASCAR. Is it you or is it the people that you surround yourself with?

CHIP GANASSI: It's certainly the people I surround myself with. We have a lot to learn here in NASCAR yet, I can assure you. I've just been lucky to work with great people over the years.

Q. I was going to say, are you really that good? I thought that might sound argumentative.

CHIP GANASSI: My mother may think so, but...

Q. You said that third turn was awesome. Describe what "awesome" is in the third turn?

CASEY MEARS: Turn three is probably the fastest corner on the track, and the corner that has the most grip. It was just one of those corners where I didn't hesitate. You know, when you go into the corner and you get on the brakes as late as you possibly can, as soon as you get off the brakes, if you let it roll at all, you're hesitating. As soon as I got off the brake, I was back on the gas, and the car stuck, you know, all the way out at the wall when I entered and all the way out at the wall when you come off. That's what makes a good qualifying run. If you almost hit all four walls and you didn't, you missed, you put in a pretty good lap (laughter).

Q. Casey, aside from your extracurricular activities, is there a point this season when you knew, before you had two poles in a very short period of time, is there a point that you knew you could run for poles? Any changes on the team or your attitude?

CASEY MEARS: You know what, I think early on, early on this year, you know, right out of the gate, things felt better. You know, the engine program really stepped up. The cars are good. Jimmy Elledge and I worked a lot together, but were missing each other, going by each other left and right. We were trying to get the car right. That just comes from my totally different experience compared to what he's got. It was nice to do everything that we did last year, have the off-season, the talk, become awesome friends. I mean, we're really, really good friends. And I think that our communication has really helped us out this year. He knows my big and my small. If I say big, he thinks it's four rounds, when I really mean 10, that's what it takes. And it just takes time to learn that. I think that's a lot of our success. You got these short practice sessions, you got to utilize the time well, and you can't be making wrong adjustments and wasting time. So that was a big deal. And I think that early on, right at the beginning of the year, we noticed that our communication was a lot better. You know, last year we were like, "Man, you know, we got the speed, it's just a matter of hitting it right. If we can just hit it right, we know we can set on poles." This year we started hitting it right.

Q. You talked about how awesome "awesome" was, but you also seemed to say that turn two was the critical area for this lap. How timid or what was timid in turn two?

CASEY MEARS: It wasn't a lot. You know, obviously couldn't be a whole lot. But I have expectations of what my perfect lap's going to be. You know, you picture that in your head. You say, if I got a perfect lap, I get out of it here, get on it here. I just got into it just a tick later than I wanted to, and the car stuck. Turn two was the only corner that I didn't almost hit the wall coming off. You just go gosh dang it. Barely made it, then you just feel like you didn't get everything out of that corner. Out of all four corners, that was the one I felt like I might have just missed a tick. But we made up for it at the other end.

Q. How are you feeling inside about getting this pole? Are you humbled by it? You probably haven't really soaked it in. Where you were out on the grid, "So much could go wrong." Now you're sitting up at the podium at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the polesitter for the race. How does that feel?

CASEY MEARS: It's just crazy. You know, I mean, I don't even know yet. I'm just giving you guys the best answers I can (laughter). I don't know. What really set it home was when you walk up to go do your pole pictures and you got grandpa and your dad and brother there, you know. That's cool.

Q. Chip, when you got into this, some of us were kind of surprised that you went this way. Did you ever drive a stock car competitively, even sports cars maybe?

CHIP GANASSI: Sports cars, yes.

Q. You did have some fenders?

CHIP GANASSI: But nothing like these.

Q. Nothing like these?

CHIP GANASSI: No.

Q. Casey, what are your recollections of Rick's wins here?

CASEY MEARS: Well, really the one that stands out most is the last one, that's when I was probably the oldest to remember the most about it, and I think the most impressive. You know, I mean, I know his first win, even Rick said himself, he didn't really feel like he appreciated it that much. It was only like his second year here. It was just another racetrack for him. He just did the best job he could and won the race. The last race I think is special just because, you know, he had matured a lot as a driver, obviously won a bunch of championships, knew what it took to win the race, knew the significance of winning the race, and the way that he did it. You know, it was just unreal, passing on the outside going into one. Then Michael passed him I think it was on a restart. When Rick passed him back, they were going at full speed. I'll never forget getting the chills, watching the right rear tire lay a big black streak around both corners. It was pretty cool.

Q. You talked about communication before. Again, with these performances, your confidence level has to be up. How soon can we expect a win?

CASEY MEARS: I expect a win Sunday. I mean, we got the equipment to do it. We just got to do everything right. You know, these NEXTEL Cup races are like a puzzle. You got to put all the right pieces in the right places at the right time. You know, it's not only being fast, you know, it's having good pit stops. Myself as a driver, getting in and out of the pits right, staying out of the crashes, not pitting in the caution coming out. There's just so many variables that can keep you from winning the race that you got to have all those things on your side and you got to drive to try to make all these things happen on your side and the team's got to make the right calls. There's two million things that go into a race win, but I know that we got the team, we got the cars, we got the motors to do it. You know, we just got to put all the pieces of the puzzle in the right places.

Q. Casey, it's a 400-mile race. What are your plans when the green flag drops tomorrow?

CASEY MEARS: To lead. To lead. You know, I mean, I want --

CHIP GANASSI: Clean air is your friend.

CASEY MEARS: Yeah, absolutely. This place really, this place and Pocono are two of the biggest places where clean air is just enormous. With these cars now have become so aero dependent, if you can get out and get clean air on the front end of the car, you can run 4, 5/10ths faster than second place. So if I can get out and lead, you know, lead the first few laps, you know, evaluate our car, see where we need to be, that's my plan.

Q. Chip, what would it mean to you as a NEXTEL car owner to kiss those bricks on Sunday?

CHIP GANASSI: Well, it would obviously be the biggest win of our stock car career, I guess, our NASCAR career. I mean, I think, you know, what could you say? I mean, I'd love to kiss the bricks in August here.

Q. Is it a hunger?

CHIP GANASSI: I think, you know, when you're in racing as long as I have been, I don't know how to explain the feeling, I just know that I like it when we win, you know (laughter). I'm not the greatest with a lot of words at times about how to put things in perspective, but I can tell you I like the feeling. That's why we're involved in all facets of of racing. I enjoy winning. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the fellowship. That's why I'm here. We're here to win.

Q. How are you going to celebrate tonight? Are you going to have a family dinner, team get-together, just sit and think about the race? What will you do tonight?

CASEY MEARS: I don't know. I think the pole's more gratifying than something to really, really celebrate. You know what I mean? I think a race wiin is something to celebrate. We'll probably get back tonight, I mean, just having my family here is awesome. I think we'll just hang out. I use that word a lot. But I think grandma and grandpa are here, probably just hang out at the motorhome, barbecue a bit, reflect on the day, try to get some good sleep for tomorrow.

CHIP GANASSI: Same. It's gratifying for the team. You know, so much of this business is momentum and confidence and it just puts another feather in the team's hat, you know, that they can build upon.

Q. Chip, back in the early '80s when you came here as the IndyCar driver, Mears was setting the records then. Did you ever dream even that this occurrence would --

CHIP GANASSI: You don't even think about that. I mean, in those days, you know, I was just trying to catch up to Rick. You know, he set the bar, and he set it pretty high, I can tell you. You know, between he and Roger, you know, they set the pace back in those days. That was who you wanted to be like, whether it was as a driver, you know, in later years as an owner. That's what you wanted to be.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations to our polesitter for the Brickyard 400.

CASEY MEARS: Thank you, guys.



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