Last year's unusual pole a lift for Mears

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 14, 2013 at 8:42 PM

Take them anyway you can get them.

Casey Mears won the pole for the last Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, just not in the traditional way.

With time trials rained out, Mears was the first driver to be awarded a pole through NASCAR’s new policy of fastest practice speed. Much like winning a rain-shortened race, the record books simply show it as a pole-winning run for Mears and the No. 13 Ford team.

“That was a definitely feather in our cap as a young team,” he said. “It was great to start on the pole, lead a few laps and run good. We were running 12th when we blew the left rear (tire). We were pretty happy with our performance compared to where the team had been in the past. That was a big deal for us.”

Mears hopes this trip to the ‘World’s Fastest Half-Mile’ to race in Sunday’s Food City 500 is similarly productive. Other than the Bristol night race, it was a tough year for the Bob Germain-owned team with only four finishes inside the top 20.

“Any time you can have a good day, it’s huge. We know we’re getting a good product from Roush, buying their parts and pieces. But, we still have to make them work. When we hit on something, it’s a big result for us. I know how hard those guys are working and when they hit it, it’s pretty rewarding.”

Still, Mears has a positive attitude toward the organization after racing for top team owners like Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Chip Ganassi.

“I really enjoy driving for this team. With those bigger teams, there is obviously more information readily available,” said Mears, 34. “But, I feel being a part of a smaller organization, I’m a bigger piece of the puzzle. Talking about all the details of the business, not just the car, but working with the guys in the shop. It’s nice when they say, ‘We need to have a meeting,’ and it’s 20-30 guys who come to the shop floor. I think having that smaller team feel has been a good feel. I like to be a part of making it grow.”

Although the Hendrick drivers are in Chevrolets, Mears still maintains friendships with his former teammates. They still have a close enough relationship where they can discuss perspective changes which may occur, although as he pointed out, there are limits.

“If Goodyear introduces a new tire or there’s some rule change, you definitely discuss things like that,” Mears said. “When it comes to details, everybody holds that tight to the vest. Maybe certain ways we drive, we have good conversations. Any details about the cars usually stay pretty close.”

It’s an especially close friendship which Mears shares with five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. The two Southern California natives and former off-road racers have been friends since childhood.

“I can’t help, but to be real proud of him,” he said. “Just being a good friend of his, we met when I was 12 and we were teammates.”

The two headed down different career paths with Mears, a promising open-wheel driver who followed in the footsteps of his father Roger and uncle Rick, a four-time Indianapolis 500 champion.

He finished fourth in a Champ Car debut, but coincidentally made his Sprint Cup Series debut the same season as Johnson in 2002. Mears, a one-time winner in the Cup Series and a three-time pole winner, still has aspirations of running the Indianapolis 500 although it appears a longshot at this point.

He realizes the Germain team is in a good spot to be involved with Ford. The friendship with team owner Bob Germain and the Ford family goes back even farther than Mears’ relationship with Johnson.

“I’ve been real proud to be involved with Ford,” Mears said. “They have such a long history in motorsports and my car owner Bob Germaine, his family has close ties with Ford. His grandfather worked for Henry Ford way back, so it’s new for our program to be involved with Ford.”

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