Race Weekend Central

Casey Mears Driver Diary: Road Courses, Daytona Success & Looking Ahead

Sonoma was actually planned to be a start-and-park, so we were going there with intentions of qualifying the best we could, running a few laps and being done for the day. But we were able to work it out to where we could actually run the race to try and maintain a little bit better position in the points. We didn’t really have a pit crew and were missing some things when it came to that, but last minute we decided to go ahead and run the whole race.

We weren’t bad; we were actually better than some of the guys. I felt like we could have been somewhere inside the top 20 at least. Because we were a start-and-park, we didn’t really have a proper carburetor on the car, so fuel mileage was way off. We ended up running out of fuel. We ended up having some really bad pit stops just from not being prepared, but it was definitely better than doing a start-and-park. We got to pick up more points than we typically would have, and it’s always fun to go out to Sonoma.

I think that Sonoma is very unique as opposed to going to Watkins Glen. Sonoma is a very tight, very slick road course, very hot. Forward bite is a pretty big issue. It’s a very, very easy track to overdrive. I think I overdrove it the first couple of years I went there just trying to get too much out of the track and the racecar. It really rewards being consistent and not overdriving the corners. You can brake really, really hard in the brake ones, but you have to make sure you get the car slowed down plenty before you get in the corner and not abuse the tires.

So really, I view Sonoma somewhat with the mentality that you’d run at Martinsville with: very hard braking, but make sure you can get the car slowed down to where you can point it and get a good drive off of all the really tight corners. I think finesse is a really big deal when it comes to the road courses and not abusing the car or the tire.

Daytona was good. We started off where we actually made a deal with Bobby Labonte where we were going to work together for the whole race. Our plan was just to stay out of trouble and make a charge at the end. Unfortunately the first crash, I believe it was with the [No.] 21 car, Bobby ended up getting into it, getting a piece of it. Under that caution we were juggling around trying to figure out who we were going to partner up with and Landon Cassill needed somebody. We ended up getting together and it worked out great.

Landon did a really good job pushing. We just worked well together. He was comfortable with how I was describing what was coming up as we were coming up on it, and I was really comfortable with him pushing. So it worked out really well, and you know, we were fast. As a pair we were really good. The last green-flag pit stop we got a little bit behind, lost a little bit of time on pit road, but we were running them back down and sitting in a really good position to have a good finish at the end.

We had a late-race run with about three laps to go on the top-10 guys and that second-to-last caution came out and shortly after the restart we got caught up in a crash. But we were really happy with the way we ran. It was good to show people we could run up front when things were right. All in all it was a good day and we just didn’t get the result we needed.

Kentucky was solid, in a way. We finished about 25th, but really, for us, I think it was an improvement. We’ve been showing up to the mile-and-a-half tracks running a half-second off or six tenths off, and the guys actually built a new car out of our race shop; not really new, but kind of a hybrid of MWR and Germain.

We took an old MWR car and built the body ourselves and made some adjustments to the chassis. We went to Kentucky and we were actually within a tenth to two tenths of the big guys as far as speed goes. It was a big improvement on our cars and our chassis-a big step in the right direction. We ended up 25th, so not a great result, but for us it was definitely an improvement.

A couple of things didn’t quite fall our way and if they would have, I think we could have easily been 15th to 18th, so things are going in the right direction. You know, it’s easy to be on outside looking in and see where we’re finishing and look at the points and go, “Man, they’re having a terrible year,” but I think when you understand what we’re trying to accomplish with the limited races that we do have to race, being on the inside it’s kind of exciting because you can see that we’re improving.

If we’re able to put together what we hope we’ll be able to put together as far as funding going into next season, we’ll really be able to start showing what we’re capable of.

While we were in Kentucky, they have a local Toyota factory there where they actually build the Camry, and they have an all-new Camry that they’re coming out with, so that was the big buzz around Kentucky with the Toyota folks. We went to their corporate offices and did a meet and greet and an autograph session for all the workers there in that office. It was good to get to meet a lot of those guys.

Honestly, I was a little disappointed we couldn’t run the whole race at Loudon. We qualified okay, but actually in the race we were moving forward and running really well, but because we knew we were going to park, we didn’t necessarily have the right brake ducts and a lot of things on the car that we’d have if we were going to go race. We were moving forward through the field pretty quick, but then the brakes started getting hot and we just had to just kind of maintain there for a while before we pulled in.

It’s frustrating to do the start-and-park, especially when you feel like you could have a car that’s decent. But we know that going in, we know what we have to do this year, and the ultimate goal is to put ourselves in good position for next season.

For the off week, we kind of stayed home. We went about two hours north up to Virginia and went up to an area called Primland. It used to be kind of a hunting resort area and then about six years ago they built a golf course, then about two years ago they built the lodge, hotel and spa. So we took the two kids up and tried to beat some of the Charlotte heat. When it was about 100 degrees in Charlotte, it was only about 88 or so up in the mountains. We had a good time, relaxed for a couple of days and came home.

Indy is always a lot of fun with the history that my family has there and the long history that the speedway has, period. It’s just a lot of fun to go to and there are a lot of good memories about that place within my family, so it’s a special place to go back to. We’re racing this weekend which is exciting. We’re taking that car that we ran at Kentucky that we felt we really made some improvements with. We’re really looking forward to just seeing what we have!

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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