Casey Mears signs an autograph for a young fan after setting a track record with a lap of 186.293 mph to take the pole.
TOM STRATTMAN / AP Enlarge
INDIANAPOLIS - When Casey Mears first came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, everybody already knew his name. He was expected to be the next great race car driver from a renowned racing family.
As the son of offroad-racing legend Roger Mears and the nephew of four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears, the kid came with a certain pedigree. Yesterday he started carving out his own reputation at the storied track.
In just his second full season on the Nextel Cup circuit, Mears grabbed the pole position for today's Brickyard 400 by shattering the track record at 186.293 mph in yesterday's qualifying. It was the second straight pole win for Mears, 26, who races for the Target/Chip Ganassi racing team.
"It just keeps getting better all of the time for me," Mears said.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native said he does not sense any additional pressure on himself since he wears a name already famous in racing circles.
"I don't think it's pressure as much as it is excitement," Mears said. "It's exciting to come back to a place that has a lot of family heritage. I'm sure a lot of people look at it like his family has had success here in the past and he should be successful, but I think for the most part people see I'm a young guy like everybody else and trying to learn like everybody else. I have a strong family background at Indy and I was able to learn some things early."
Just moments after qualifying ended and the pole position was secured, Mears took a call from Uncle Rick, who offered some advice on the eve of the Brickyard 400.
"He told me to just be patient and do the best you can," Casey Mears said. "If things aren't right right off the bat, just remember that it's a long race and get your car right and think about where the track is going. That's the big thing he said - that this track changes a lot. If you make the right adjustments on that last pit stop, then you'll be good at the end. He said be patient, be smart, and try to make the right calls to get the car right."
While he has a respect for the track and the competition, Mears said he intends to maintain his position out front when the race unfolds.
"I expect to win on Sunday," he said. "We have the equipment to do it, and now we just have to do everything right. This is all about fitting together the pieces of the puzzle. We have to have so many things work just right, and then I have to go out and drive."
EARNHARDT'S PLANS: Dale Earnhardt Jr., his neck and leg still wrapped in bandages after he was burned in a crash three weeks ago, said he expects to complete the Brickyard 400 today and not step out of the car to let a relief driver take over.
Earnhardt received second-degree burns when a Corvette he was driving in an American Le Mans Series crashed and erupted into a fireball. He has started both Nextel Cup Series races since the incident to stay in the season points race, but has turned the car over to a backup driver after the first caution at both New Hampshire and Pocono.
"Walking is harder than standing right now, so sitting in the car and driving the car - I don't think it will bother me," Earnhardt said. "When you have an open wound like I do on my leg, and you stand up, that puts a lot of pressure on it. That's why I walk like an old man. But I think I can drive without any problems, and that's what I intend to do."
Earnhardt, using a new chassis from a new builder, went out first in yesterday's qualifying and set a track record at 184.968 mph. It did not stand up for long, and Earnhardt dropped to the fifth starting position by the time qualifying ended.
FORGET THE POINTS: While a lot of the focus lately has been on the Chase for the Nextel Cup, which will take the top 10 drivers in the points race and let them compete for the championship over the final 10 races of the season, Elliott Sadler will shelve those ambitions for a day.
Sadler, currently sixth in the standings, said the points are the furthest thing from his mind in the Brickyard 400.
"This weekend, I could care less about the points," said Sadler, the third-fastest qualifier yesterday. "I came here to kiss the bricks. We'll worry about the points next week. This race is so prestigious and so important to the sponsors, and we're going to run all out and try and win this thing."