Casey “Mears Gang” Mears
2006 Ride: No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge
2006 Owner: Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates
2006 Crew Chief: Donnie Wingo
Stats: 36 races, zero wins, two top fives, eight top 10s, 14th in points.
High Point: Mears started the season with a bang. In the closing laps of the Daytona 500, he found himself in an unenviable position – when Ryan Newman made his move on race leader Jimmie Johnson, Mears could have gone with either one. In the end, he chose to stay on the low line, pushing Johnson to the win and edging Newman for second – a career-best finish for the fourth-year driver. Mears runs best on intermediate tracks, and he utilized the Daytona momentum to spend the opening weeks of the season in the top 10 in points, flirting with top fives and his first win at places like Fontana and Las Vegas.
Low Point: Despite looking like it was only a matter of time before his team found the way to Victory Lane in 2006, Mears’s Ganassi car was never quite able to find the speed and setup to beat the powerhouse teams. The equipment at Chip Ganassi Racing has not been truly competitive since 2002, and while the team got off to a strong start this season, the mechanical disadvantages caught up with them sooner rather than later. In the end, Mears could only perform to the level his equipment allowed. Twice this season, the No. 42 car went 11 races between top-10 finishes, a far cry from the days of Jamie McMurray, where the organization nearly made the Chase two years running.
Summary: With his second-place run at Daytona, it seemed that Mears was poised for a breakthrough year as three of his eight top-10 finishes came in the first three races of the season. However, it would be June before Mears would score another top 10 to add to his resume, as bad luck combined with equipment failure caused the driver to drop outside the top 10 in points. Poised for a recovery in May, Mears was running in the top five in the Coca-Cola 600 when a cut tire sent him spinning, forcing him to finish 23rd – that, along with an announcement that he was leaving Ganassi at the end of the year, all but ended the chances for the youngster to make the 2006 Chase. Of course, the zero in the win column was only in theory; Mears spent time in victory lane in many of NASCAR’s biggest races in 2006, but it was only to congratulate best friend Johnson on all his successes. Still, all in all, 2006 was a decent year for Mears, a good driver in mediocre equipment who deserves better.
2007 Outlook: 2007 will be the year in which the full measure of Mears’s talent as a driver may be taken. After four years in mediocre equipment, Mears moves to Hendrick Motorsports, where all three of his future teammates made the Chase this year. Even as Hendrick’s fourth driver, Mears should be able to post some impressive numbers and challenge for the championship with the support he’s accumulated through his new team.