When Bigger Is Better

No driver should be happier to leave Richmond International Raceway behind more than Casey Mears.

The driver of the No. 42 Texaco Havoline Dodge has been in a bit of a rut these last seven races after storming into the 2006 season with three consecutive top-10 results, including a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500.

While his self described "aggravating" period began in Atlanta, where he finished 21st in the Golden Corral 500, it coincided with the season's stretch of short track races – where Mears is not very successful.

Including this season's events at Bristol, Martinsville, Phoenix and Richmond, all tracks of one mile in length or shorter, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has competed in 21 short-track events and has only posted an average finish of 29.8, with no top-10 results to his credit.

But now, with short tracks behind him and not approaching until the August 26th visit to Bristol, Mears can focus on tracks that suit his driving style better – the one- to two-mile havens like the upcoming races at Darlington Raceway and Lowe's Motor Speedway.

At these style tracks, the 28-year-old driver hopes to return to his torrid early season form, as he holds an average finish of 22.7 on speedways of one to two miles in length.

"Outside of Charlotte, Texas and the tracks like them, (Darlington's) one of the most fun places we go to just because it's so different. The way you drive that place is so much fun, right up against the wall. It's definitely tough."

It is important for the fourth year NEXTEL Cup driver to succeed as he not only looks to make the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" for the first time, but also because he is in his "walk year" as his contract expires at the end of the season.

Despite denying rumors of greener pastures at Richard Childress Racing and Robert Yates Racing (where he is rumored to reunite Yates with longtime sponsor Texaco should current driver Dale Jarrett depart to Toyota), Mears is understanding that he must perform as well as he did in the first three events no matter where he races next season.

"I can't stress enough how important it is for us to start finishing in the top 10," said Mears, whose 17th place result at Richmond helped lift him back inside the top-10 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings. "I don't have great finishes at Darlington, but I know this team can run well there. We tested at Charlotte and were really fast at times, so the next few weeks should be good for us."

Should Mears recapture the magic that helped him not only perform well in Cup competition, but also become the first active NEXTEL Cup driver to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona, look for him to have to deflect more questions about potential suitors as he attempts to lock up a spot in the "Chase."

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