Mears Steers To Martinsville

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For all intents and purposes, Casey Mears was already out of the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" championship a year ago when the series headed to Martinsville's spring race.

Mears was mired back in 26th place after a disappointing start to the 2005 season.

But, as the saying goes, what a difference a year makes.

In 2006, Mears comes to Martinsville holding down the eighth spot in the standings an improvement of 174 points from a year ago.

After starting the season off with an eye-opening runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, Mears hasn't left the top 10 through the year's first five races.

He had his worst finish of the season last week at Bristol, the first of two-straight short track races for the series.

But although both Bristol and Martinsville are only a half-mile in length, the two tracks couldn't be more different.

"You would think running at Bristol last weekend would help for Martinsville, but the tracks and the approach are totally different," Mears said. "You use so much brake at Martinsville and you don't have to do that at Bristol. Fortunately, the brakes we use now are so good it is tough to wear them out, but as a driver you are always a little cautious about them."

Mears will have a challenge ahead of him again on Sunday if his past performance at Martinsville is any indicator. In six career NEXTEL Cup starts at the track, Mears has finished 17th twice, something he looks forward to correcting this weekend.

"Martinsville has typically been a tough track for me," said Mears. "Last year I ran better, but there is still room for improvement. Before the fall race last year, I actually tested with Wingo and the team at Martinsville. He's made some changes to the set up, and I believe the team as a whole has improved the cars, so we should all perform better."

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