NASCAR Preseason Fan Festival
January 16, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
HERB BRANHAM: We're joined by Casey Mears, driver of the No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet this year. New team, new situation. What's it feel like coming back to the Daytona 500?
CASEY MEARS: It feels good. I mean, kind of a long off-season. We didn't get -- with the testing rules you don't get in the car probably as often as you would. This year we've done a little bit here and there, got some testing done in November when we first kind of decided exactly what we were going to do and got together with the 07 team and it went really well. I'm excited. I think like everybody, everybody is just kind of ready to get going.
From our end with a lot of things being new, the sooner the better and the sooner we can figure out exactly where we stand as far as our communication between Gil and I, working with all the new guys on the team. The sooner the better for us.
Q. This is kind of a three-parter. What's been your daughter's latest landmark?
CASEY MEARS: My daughter's?
CASEY MEARS: That's a good question because, man, that's been a lot of my off-season. She is just doing a lot of smiling lately (laughing), which is really cool. We've been really enjoying here. The last month she's really started to smile a lot, respond to you, and definitely is becoming probably more fun. Obviously it's an exciting period to have a child, but to now see her start to grow and develop and learn and understand what's going on around her is a lot of fun.
Q. On the business side, you know, with RCR's recent history, is that a great comfort to you coming into 2009, or is there more pressure to pick that up and carry it on as it has been?
CASEY MEARS: You know, honestly I haven't thought a whole lot about where they were last year and what they've done, just knowing that I'm going in with a really good organization. Obviously we want to continue success. They had a great last year, everybody making the Chase. That's something we want to do again this year.
The first indications of everything that I've gotten so far working the little bit that I have with Gil and the guys, spending time around the shop, it's just a good fit, it really is. It's a very good fit. I thought I was comfortable last year, and now I'm over here at RCR and I'm working with Gil and these guys, and I'm realizing that I wasn't as comfortable as I should have been last year. These guys have really made me feel at home, and the speed has shown when we have gone and tested, we've been quick. So I'm really optimistic about this year, and I think that the chances of us having a lot of success this year is very high.
Q. Finally, were you part of that proving grounds excursion, and if you were, what was that overall experience like, and was it as much a team-building deal as it was parts, pieces and that kind of thing?
CASEY MEARS: I did go out to the GM proving grounds with all those people, and it was a great experience. A lot of times typically a test driver might go out there because it's fairly easy from a driver's standpoint, you go out there and hold it wide open, and if it's faster, it's faster, and if it's not, it's not. It's more of a parts and pieces procedure, just bolting stuff on and seeing what's fast and what's not. So from the standpoint of me learning a whole lot as far as driving goes, it really wasn't there. But the opportunity to spend the time with the team, took everybody out to dinner, felt like it was very valuable in a lot of the things that we learned, hopefully we'll be able to carry it over to Daytona, and we'll see how it works out. But it was definitely good to spend these three days, get to know the guys a little bit more, and that's one of the things where I left going, man, I really like these guys. They're a lot of fun.
At the same time we're learning things that are valuable that are going to help the race team. I'm just looking forward to doing more. I can't wait to really get started this year.
Q. You're in the 24 and the 500 this year. Can you talk about the differences between those races?
CASEY MEARS: Well, I guess it would be easier to tell you what's the same. I guess the cars both have four tires and a steering wheel, and that's about it. I mean, it's totally different. It's very exciting to be with Childress Howard racing on the 24 side of things, 24-hour side of things. You know, they're a team that's slowly building and growing. Fortunately today they put out a release that actually Jack Daniels was going to be a part of that program, as will with, which is going to be a lot of fun.
We had a test here obviously about a week ago, and the car showed a lot of promise, had some good speed. We had an issue with blowing out a right rear tire, and I didn't get the track time that I would have really liked to get. But the fact that the car showed some good speed, I'm really looking forward to coming back. Last time being here, winning the race was a lot of fun, and we want to come back and repeat it.
And then as far as Daytona, obviously we're excited about that. Similarities, there really isn't a whole lot. I mean, it's totally different, running around an oval and a road course, it's totally different, the way you drive the cars, and the cars themselves are totally different. The Grand-Am cars are more like I would say closer to an IndyCar with a sequential gear box, no lift shift, the brakes that they have on them and the way they can stop is definitely -- they can stop a lot better than our Cup cars. But yet when you get to the infield where you're in the slow speed corners, they feel a little bit more like a stock car where you slide them around, you get to the high speed and it reminds you more of an IndyCar.
For me it's a little bit more fun to get that taste again, to feel that technology side of things, to have a Pit Road speed limiter, have the no-lift shift, have a fuel injected engine, a lot of that stuff is fun to drive and get a taste of, and I'm looking forward to doing that.
Q. You've just mentioned that you thought you felt comfortable over at Hendrick, but now that you're at Childress you understand what comfortable is supposed to feel like. What was the difference?
CASEY MEARS: I don't know, and I have a lot of good friends at Hendrick, and the guys on the team all treated me well. I had a really, really good time. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions. Everything is new. So far we're kind of on the honeymoon or romance side of things on the Childress side here, but I've been happy and pleased so far with the way we've all kind of clicked. Gil and I have clicked right away. The test that we had in November, every single change we made on the car went in the right direction, you know, and to me that was a good indication that we're communicating. He's understanding what I'm saying, and he's translating it to the car.
So that side was important. And then right out of the gate just really hit it off with a lot of the guys, and it's a good, comfortable atmosphere at RCR that is still very serious about Motorsports and what they're doing. For some reason I feel very comfortable. Like I said, I felt comfortable last year, and this year for some reason I feel more comfortable, and I'm not sure why that is.
Q. Going now to Arizona, I mean, people are fudging on these rules. Isn't it supposed to be like no testing? I mean, I know it's legal and all that, but isn't that sort of like a quasi-moral thing that you guys have to sort of deal with?
CASEY MEARS: You know what's crazy is I haven't really dug into exactly what it is you're supposed to do and what exactly you're not supposed to do. My vague understanding is that we're not supposed to test at any NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, which obviously the GM proving grounds is not a NASCAR-sanctioned track. We went out there and tried to get all the information we possibly can.
It's a tough area to try to find out exactly how it's supposed to be done as far as saying no testing, some testing. How do you deal with new rookies coming in? You don't give them any track time, that's not fair. There is, I think, possibly maybe some better ways of doing it, and at the same time, I think that it was a good step in the right direction, too, with what they're doing as far as trying to have not as much testing.
For us, we're just doing what we need to do within the rules to try to get all the information we possibly can, and we're going to continue to do that until something else is different.
Q. Does the lack of testing here matter more, less, and is it less because you get so much on-track time before the actual race?
CASEY MEARS: I think that the test at Daytona was always -- they're valuable. Any time you can get track time and find out what your car is going to do. Probably the least valuable probably of a lot of the other tests that we go to. These guys got these cars pretty sorted out now when it comes to super speedways, and NASCAR has got you in such a small box. There isn't really anything a whole lot you can do to improve your race car. A lot of times we came here to Daytona and made a million changes and picked up probably half a tenth. It can be a little bit frustrating. I think it was good to be able to go to the proving grounds and actually have some time. Usually here at Daytona there was so many cars, you'd make a change, go out onto Pit Road and sit there for 30 or 40 minutes before you got to make your run, and then somebody might pull out in front of you and ruin that run. So it was pretty tedious to come here and test at Daytona, although it was valuable, and we probably wish we still had that at times because the proving grounds are not like Daytona, it's a different place. In a lot of ways I think we're getting done what we needed to get done somewhere else, but it would be nice to get some laps here to know exactly how it's going to affect this particular track.
Q. Is it just not possible to get all four of those cars at Hendrick running up front at the same time for some reason, and is there anything that Richard or any of the drivers over there said to you at Childress that swayed your decision to go there?
CASEY MEARS: You know, I don't think anything is impossible. I think that you could dig into a lot of reasons why -- possibly why we weren't as competitive last year. But really, I mean, for me, that's kind of done with. That's somebody else's topic to really talk about, and Mark will probably be in here at some point and you can ask him how he feels about going into this year, and I think they have a lot of potential to do well.
As far as RCR, Richard was one of the key reasons why I definitely wanted to go to RCR. Obviously they've got a great organization, they've got a great team. Now meeting Gil and all the guys, I'm so happy with having the opportunity to go there. But Richard is one of those guys that when I first started in the Cup side of things, I had a lot to learn the first couple years, but I know my second and third year when I really started coming on and running really well, even if I was running for seventh or sixth place position, he's one of those guys that really watches the race. Outside of our race car drivers other team owners, he really watches his guys but he also watches the whole race because I don't know how many times I'd be walking down Pit Road or walking through the garage and he'd stop me and he'd say, man, that race you had with that guy the other day was a hell of a race. He's watching what you do and how you reacted. It was neat to know that he was kind of keeping tabs on me and seeing what was going on, and I always thought that was special about Richard, that he actually paid attention to what was going on out there a lot more than a lot of other car owners do. We were talking about that the other day.
It's a lot of fun. I'm walking through the shop today, and he's there walking around. It's cool to see that. It definitely makes you feel like, hey, he's really a part of this deal. So in a lot of ways the big reason for me is -- looking at all my opportunities, it was the best one; and number two, now, those are some of the reasons why, Richard, the guys, the sponsor, Jack Daniels, I've been really hanging out with those guys a lot lately, and they're a great sponsor to be around. From top to bottom it's just a great opportunity.
Q. With the state of the economy now and the ban on testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, do you think that the division between the second-tier teams and the upper tier teams, do you think that will get wider because with the upper-tier teams having so much engineering help and the seven-post rigs and the simulators?
CASEY MEARS: Yeah, or maybe it'll give us a real good opportunity to go get lost and the lower-tier teams stay the same or not go bad. I think no matter what the rules are in any type of sport or IndyCars, whatever it is, there's always going to be certain teams that have money to go out there and really spend and do it right and there's going to be teams that don't have the money to spend and do it right. I don't know if the lack of testing or getting more testing is going to sway that. I mean, when you look at RCR and Hendrick and Roush and Gibbs, what are considered the bigger teams with the money, I think they're always going to have more people, more info, regardless of what the rules are. There's always going to be a little bit of separation there.
You know, so I don't think that's really going to sway that a whole lot.
Q. What do you lose by not having a good friend like Jimmie Johnson in the fold as a teammate, just in relating to your teammates? What do you lose by not having that relationship?
CASEY MEARS: I don't know, I don't get to see my friend as often. Honestly, when you think about teammates, I've got some great teammates over there at RCR, really. Those guys are very talented, obviously have a lot of information. I spoke a lot with Jeff Burton, I spoke with Clint, I spoke with Kevin. It's all right there as far as teammates goes. I don't think anything is going to be better or worse. We're all going to be working just as hard as I did last year with what was a friend of mine.
I think when you come to the racetrack you're focused on racing and it doesn't matter who that teammate is. You're focused on learning and understanding maybe what they know versus what some of the other guys might know. Right now I think I've got three great guys to pull from at RCR for information, and in return I hope they feel like I'm one of those guys that they can pull from, as well. I don't know if I'm losing anything there because I can still call Jimmie and talk to him right now if I wanted to.
Q. Casey, you've grown up around racing. What advice along the way have you picked up that worked the best for you, and how do you relate that now to your new team?
CASEY MEARS: There's such a long list of advice I've gotten to this point from my dad, my uncle, different drivers. When I first started over here, there was a lot of guys -- that's one thing that I really liked about NASCAR when I first got involved with it is how open a lot of the other drivers were. A lot of the veterans were really willing to help a lot of the rookie guys coming in. I could go to any one driver at any time and ask him a question if I was confused on something, and they all gave me good answers and good advice to the best of their ability which was a lot of fun and a big difference from when I was on the open wheel side of things. It's hard to pinpoint just one. I think my dad and my uncle probably instilled the most advice in me from day one. Day one was never burn a bridge. It's a small world. And now that I've looked at the way my career has gone, going through the teams like I have recently, I'm glad to say that I haven't really burned a bridge anywhere. And a lot of reason is because of what my dad has told me on that.
Obviously growing up early, to be persistent and you've got to work hard at it. I mean, I didn't get handed a lot of the rides that I got going up through the ranks. I had to go after them and really talk to car owners and work hard at getting a lot of those rides. You know, it's hard to say what's the best advice I got over the years because I've gotten so much. But I could say the best advice I've gotten has been from my dad and my uncle growing up.
Q. Looking ahead at the championship now, when you talk with the guys, Burton and those guys, Kevin, over at RCR, and you analyze and you're all analyzing what happened last year, it seemed like RCR peaked at the right time and got flat toward the end, and you've been around Jimmie and seen how Hendrick does it, what's your feeling on what RCR didn't do right or needs to do better to be in the hunt down the stretch for the championship hunt?
CASEY MEARS: I think I'll have a better answer to that as I get more involved. I think everything that I've done is preliminary. We haven't had that conversation. We haven't gotten into a group and sat down and gone, okay, here's what happened last year, here's what we need to work on. Although we're one team, individually I think everybody is going to work on what they need to do to improve that.
My outside look, looking in, wasn't more that they fell off, it was some of the other guys got a little better right at the end. We've got to focus on what we need to do to get more consistent, and I don't even know that that's really an issue. Until I get more involved and really understand where we're at, those first few races we have, where are we, how competitive are we, where do we need to go, those are going to be questions that I can probably answer better midway through the year.
Q. I heard you were a sky diver. Have you done any sky diving in the off-season?
CASEY MEARS: The only sky diving I've done is what Brian Vickers told me he's done. I've never sky dived before.
Q. Any plans in the future?
CASEY MEARS: I don't know, if Richard would let me do it. I might try it out. I haven't sky dived at all.
Q. Did you give any consideration at all to going over to IndyCars?
CASEY MEARS: No, no, I really didn't. I mean, I think this is where you want to be, right here in NASCAR right now. In the United States if not the world it's the best series out there, not only from a fan view and how popular it is, if you want to be one of the best race car drivers in the world, you need to be over here in this series. That's the bottom line. It's the best drivers, best teams, best equipment are right here. I don't want to go to another series. I'm not saying that IndyCar Series isn't competitive, but in my mind I think there's a lot of good drivers that are over there, but in my mind if I beat these guys, I'm beating the best, and that's why I'm here.
HERB BRANHAM: Casey, thank you very much.
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