Mears Learns To Win

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Want to know what a difference 24 hours makes? Ask Casey Mears.

This past Saturday, he was known as the nephew of open wheel legend Rick Mears who three times had a best finish in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition of fourth.

24 hours later, he was simply known as a winner.

As a member of the Rolex 24 at Daytona winning Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, with IRL IndyCar champions Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon, Mears has finally obtained the elusive victory he has been seeking for three full years as a member of Chip Ganassi Racing.

"I don’t know. I don’t think there is really a monkey on my back, there’s just a lot of growing pains. It was a big adjustment coming from the open wheel side to stock cars," said Mears, who will switch from the familiar No. 41 Target Dodge to the No. 42 Havoline Dodge this season.

For an organization that has not won during the last two seasons of NEXTEL Cup competition, the victory by Mears at Daytona was a pleasant surprise.

As Scott Dixon, 2003 IndyCar champion, admitted: it’s "been pretty bad" on the Cup side.

"It’s frustrating for a team like TCGR that’s used to winning championships and a lot of races, it’s really hard to go through that," said Dixon. "The level of expectation at Ganassi is always straight forward, to win and nothing else."

Not only was the victory significant because it was his first with the team, but it also got Mears the title of being the first full time NASCAR driver to win the prestigious endurance race.

"It feels good to come in and represent NASCAR," admitted a gleeful Mears. "I know Tony (Stewart) has been real close the last couple of years, and I know he is probably kicking himself again because I know he wanted to get it this year. Maybe I can rub something in his face when I go back to the drivers meeting next week."

With just a few weeks left before the beginning of the 2006 season, the focus will now be back on the NEXTEL Cup efforts for his team as they look to continue the significant improvement made towards the end of last season.

In the final 10 races of 2005, Mears scored one top five and five top-10’s.

Combine that performance with the influx of new talent, teammates Reed Sorenson and David Stremme, along with the new engine facilities being built and you get a driver who feels like he can start winning right away.

"We put a big emphasis on this year. It’s one of those organizations that you are with, and maybe things aren’t going good, but you never doubt it. You know that at some point it’ll get back and they are going to figure it out. I think that this year is going to be one of those years."

As Benny Parsons, who was grand marshal of the Rolex 24, told Mears: He now knows where Victory Lane is located.

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