Casey Mears grew up dreaming about winning poles and races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He just never pictured doing it in a stock car.
Yesterday, Mears took a big step in his budding NASCAR Nextel Cup career, and the first step toward emulating the Indianapolis success of uncle Rick Mears, by winning the pole for the Brickyard 400.
He took full advantage of an early draw in the qualifying line to post a lap of 186.293 mph. That broke the Indianapolis stock-car qualifying record of 184.343, set last year by Kevin Harvick.
"It feels great to be back here at Indy and holding up the Mears name proud," Casey said after driving his No. 41 Dodge to the second pole of his career and second in as many weeks. "Hopefully, I will have a good race on Sunday. It would just mean everything in the world."
After seeing his father, Roger, race at the speedway in the early 1980s, and watching Uncle Rick win six poles and four races in the Indianapolis 500, Casey always pictured himself racing an open-wheel car on the 21/2-mile Indy oval.
The youngster, then 23, tried to make the 500 in 2001 but was unable to get a Galles Racing entry up to speed and came up short in a last-minute qualifying effort after jumping into a car fielded by Derrick Walker.
"I think this is a good feeling of redemption," Mears said. "To have such a horrible month and not qualify for the show was just heartbreaking. I've got a lot of unfinished business here."
Unable to come up with a steady ride in CART or the IRL, the frustrated Mears tried his hand at stock-car racing and got a full-time opportunity in 2003 with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Entering today with no finish better than 15th, Mears has been something of a surprise this season. Going into today's race, he has seven top 10 finishes and stands a very respectable 16th in the points.
In his first stock-car race here, Mears qualified 28th and finished 29th.
"Last year, we came here with a great team and struggled," he said. "I was just very inexperienced. I've got great experience under my belt now, and we're running awesome. The team is putting some great racecars underneath me and I'm finally able to drive them."
Ward Burton, who held the pole briefly before Mears made his run, wound up second at 185.391, followed by Elliott Sadler at 185.162, Joe Nemechek at 184.976, Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 184.968 and rookie Brian Vickers at 184.665.
* NASCAR: Kyle Busch passed up a final pit stop for tires, then held off a charging Johnny Sauter in the closing laps to win the NASCAR Kroger 200 Busch Series race at Indianapolis Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind.
Sauter, who also finished second in the Craftsman Truck race Friday night, started from the pole but lost the lead when he pitted after 131 of the 200 laps on the 0.686-mile oval.
He dropped to 14th but steadily worked his way back toward the front. Then when Greg Biffle and David Green took their final pit stops, Busch stayed on the track and inherited the lead he kept for the final 44 laps.
* CHAMP CAR: Sebastien Bourdais is perfect as the pole sitter this season. He hopes to keep it that way at the Grand Prix of Road America in Elkhart, Wis.
Bourdais posted a top speed of 141.420 mph, winning his fourth pole of the season and bumping Ryan Hunter-Reay into the second spot for the race today. Hunter-Reay took it easy after qualifying for the front row with a provisional speed of 140.246 mph Friday.
The hilly, 14-turn, 4.048-mile track that winds its way through Wisconsin's picturesque countryside and features two long straightaways is a lot different from the courses at Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Ore.; and Toronto, where Bourdais parlayed the pole into checkered flags earlier this season.