Volume III, Issue 6, Page 10

News and Analysis

Casey Mears and Hendrick Motorsports to Part Ways in ‘09

Mears Talks About Future Plans, Good Equipment and Open Wheel Cars

Its ‘silly season’ time in NASCAR again and adding to that is the announcement from Hendrick Motorsports that driver Casey Mears will vacate the Kellogg’s #5 Chevy Impala following the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

"We've put a ton of emphasis on the No. 5 program," said Rick Hendrick. "It's been a total team effort, and Casey has worked as hard as anyone to help us improve. We've tested more than we ever have, but the results just haven't come. None of us, Casey included, have been satisfied with the situation this season. But he's confident there are other options out there for him in 2009, and we feel like Hendrick Motorsports will have some opportunities, too."

Mears will likely finish out the 2008 Sprint Cup campaign in Hendrick's #5 Chevrolet. "I know the effort has been there, but we haven't had the finishes to show for it," he said. "I've never tested this much or put more energy into racing. But for whatever reason, we just haven't been able to make it click. It's certainly not for lack of dedication on anyone's part.”

Yet, as a true professional, he says, “I'll talk to people about opportunities and get my 2009 plans wrapped up soon, but I'm also focused on the next 20 races and finishing 2008 on a positive note. We ran well the second half last year, and I know we can do it again. I want to close this season the right way."

Hendrick Motorsports will announce its 2009 plans at a later date. Some of those plans, according to published reports, may have Mark Martin in the #5 when he leaves Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the end of the season. Tony Stewart has also been named as a possible replacement as it has become known he will leave his current Toyota team and return to Chevy.

During an interview just after the announcement, Mears answered questions about the news. The obvious one was how he was feeling about leaving. Mears said, “I’ve known now for a couple of weeks. Rick and I sat down and had a talk. Right now, we didn’t know exactly how things were going to play out so we haven’t really jumped around to make any conclusions right away. But it’s disappointing. I’d love to be there, obviously. Hendrick Motorsports is a great organization. We’ve definitely had a rough year for probably several reasons. But everybody has worked hard. Alan (Gustafson) and Rick and everybody has worked hard to try to do what we can to help improve the program, and we just haven’t had the luck. We had some bad luck at the beginning of the year and then had some bad runs to back it up. It’s frustrating that we’ve had the start to the season that we’ve had.

“Unfortunately, it’s kind of weird because we still have the second half of the year. Everything has happened so early. But the big thing is obviously we have a lot of potential still. I don’t feel a whole lot differently about the team or the organization or the guys than I did at the beginning of the year. I feel like every week we have the opportunity to capitalize on a good finish and for some reason, we’ve just really, really struggled. The team as a whole and then we seemed to struggle a little bit more the latter part of the first half of the season and it’s unfortunate that things have come out the way that they have, but at the same time, things happen for a reason. We’re just going to try to finish off the rest of this year as strong as we possibly can.”

Watching Hendrick for years, the #25 team that the #5 team evolved from has never been consistent. Especially compared to the #24 or the #48. Does Mears see any connection there? “The biggest thing is that’s probably one of the most difficult things for all of us. There is no real one place you can point the finger and say hey, this is bad. It’s funny. I think if you did this with a lot of teams, if you analyze really how their whole season played out, you could look at four races right now that we wrecked out or just got in an issue that really wasn’t our fault, we’d be sitting in about 12th or 15th in the points right now and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

“We’ve struggled a little bit as a whole this year, with the new car. It seemed like Junior [Dale Earnhardt] and Jimmie [Johnson] kind of grabbed a hold of it a little bit better as far as those teams performing on a weekly basis. And if you look at all of us, we’ve struggled at times. The races that we had good races going, unfortunately we had an issue and it’s made us look worse than we are this year. It’s frustrating because of that reason. I don’t think that there is a hoax or a problem with the No. 5 team or anything like that, that transferred over from the No. 25. It’s just really some hard luck at the beginning of the year and we backed it up with some bad runs. Fortunately, we had a good run at Sonoma. The team has a lot of potential. We’re there. If you look at Darlington, we had one of the fastest cars on the race track. We made one decision on the set-up and fell back to 21st. We went back on that change in a pit stop and were driving right back up to the top five and we had a header blow off, of all things, and blow out the left front tire and we’ve never seen that happen. At the end of the day, this is a performance-based sport. My uncle has always said you’ve got to put the numbers on the board and that’s how you keep your job and keep your ride. So I think we can have some good performances before the year is out. The thing that I want to do is get this No. 5 car back up as high as we can in the points and get some good finishes for myself and hopefully get a good opportunity for next season.”

How does Mears see the market today for a NASCAR driver? And what is he looking for? “There actually are some good opportunities out there right now. I’m pleasantly surprised. You know you don’t really think about it a whole lot. I wasn’t thinking about it a whole lot going into this next year. This wasn’t in that mindset. But as of right now, I don’t have enough details to really discuss it, but I am pleasantly surprised with the opportunities that are out there.”