- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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Heading to Texas Motor Speedway, Casey Mears might be looking at
his best chance yet to break into the elusive club of Nextel Cup Series
With three races left in his third Cup season, Mears is itching to
win, period. It's just a bonus that he finished fourth at Texas back in
"We need a win, period, whether it's right now or down the road,"
Mears says. "It's been a long three years of learning and kind of struggling
and now we've got our act together and if we could get a win, it would be
Mears, who will switch from his No. 41 Chip Ganassi Racing entry to
the team's newest entry next year - with Reed Sorenson taking over the No.
41 - isn't sure just what ingredient the team has lacked.
"The biggest thing is just right place, right time," Mears says.
"We've had fast cars, it's just a matter of coming home. We had a car that
could have won Charlotte, but we took four [tires] instead of two. If we took two, I bet we could have held off Jimmie [Johnson] because we were just as fast as him. We passed him several times throughout the race.
"It's just circumstances. As long as you keep putting yourself in
that top five, one of these days [a win] will filter out. We ran real good
In the spring, Mears crashed his primary car and drove the backup
car through the field, where he was joined up front by teammates Jamie
McMurray and Sterling Marlin, who finished second and fifth, respectively.
"We qualified horrible, but in the race we were blistering fast,"
Mears said. "Our bodies have come along way and about that time is when we started getting better."
Mears, of course, isn't alone when it comes to looking to finish
the year strongly, preferably with a victory. In addition to his Ganassi
teammates, drivers such as Rusty Wallace, Joe Nemechek, Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Ricky Rudd, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte and Scott Riggs are still looking for wins.
Sadler's a past winner at Texas and is just 60 points behind
McMurray for 11th in the standings. The driver finishing 11th is also
saluted at the year-end award's ceremony, and Sadler says that's one of the
few things that could interrupt his goal of spending the month of December
hunting on the 30,000 acres his family owns in Virginia.
He's hopeful heading into the weekend.
"It's always a good feeling to return to a track where you've won, but for
me it's especially sweet to come back to Texas. It is just a track that fits
my driving style and a track where I have a lot of confidence," Sadler says.
"We've been running really well these past couple of races, especially
strong in qualifying. I think Kevin [Buskirk, interim crew chief] and I have
been communicating pretty well about where our cars need to be at to be
"I've started second twice at Texas so it would be nice to get the
pole but I really want to win a race before the year is over. To me, this is
definitely the track to do it at. Finishing in the 11th place in points is
still a big priority. I'd love to be on the stage in New York for all of my
sponsors. A win at Texas would be a big step in accomplishing that. Plus
they have some of the coolest trophies. I've already got the boot trophy
[April 2004]. I think this time the trophy is a cowboy hat. That would be a
pretty cool set to have at home."
Eddie D'Hondt, the general manager at Robert Yates Racing, said the
team's aero program has made strides, which is the key. Sadler is noted for
being tough on himself when things go poorly, but D'Hondt thinks the past
month or so has bolstered Sadler's spirits.
"He needs confidence and I think we've developed that in him over
the last month," D'Hondt says. "To finish a race off up-front would be huge
Burton, who will have Scott Miller serving as his crew chief for
the year's final three races, says it's always important to run well, no
matter what time of year it is. Still, a strong finish doesn't hurt matters
any heading into a new season.
"Teams that feel like they're on a roll at the end, certainly their
winter goes better," Burton says. "When you get on a roll and you're doing
better towards the end, sometimes that builds momentum and it helps you.
"But sometimes you build false security, too. You get on a roll and
you think you've got everything like it needs to be, and you don't."
This has been a long season for Labonte, but he knows it's never
too late to find success.
"It's something you can build on," Labonte says.
Vickers' three full-time teammates at Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff
Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch) have all won this season and he'd
like to join their ranks. He feels pretty good about his chances in the
final three weeks, but says finishing 11th would even be better than
"We want to finish the best we can, we want to get as many points
as we can to go after 11th," Vickers says. "A win would be awesome, we're
really going for that, but if we can have a really solid points season and
get to 11th, I would give up a win to get to 11th.
"I like Texas, I really like Phoenix and Homestead [Fla]. So hopefully it will be a good end to the season for us."
Riggs will be leaving MB2/MBV Motorsports for Evernham
Motorsports after the season, but would love to earn his first win with the team that gave him an opportunity to run Cup in the first place.
But his team has struggled, so he'll settle for the best finish he
"If we can just be competitive and be there in the hunt to win at
the end of the race and have a top five, it would just make everybody feel
better," Riggs said. "If we could win, it would satisfy the whole year, no
matter where we finish in points. If we could get a victory, it would be
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.
5dBob Pockrass and John Oreovicz