JOLIET, Ill. (AP) – Casey Mears turned a lap of 182.556 mph in his Chevrolet on Friday, taking the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway.
It was Mears’ third career pole, and the latest in a series of benchmarks that indicate improvement for the 29-year-old nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears.
Mears joined the elite Hendrick Motorsports team this year and won his first career race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May.
“It’s just awesome,” Mears said. “Obviously, when you start something new, you want to do things right.”
Although Mears ranks 19th in the standings going into Sunday’s USG Sheetrock 400, he says his team is on a “little bit of a roll” that included back-to-back top-five finishes at Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway last month.
And Mears said he got a little boost in qualifying on Friday when a cloud floated over Turns 3 and 4 during his lap to cool off the track and make it slightly less slippery.
Can one cloud really help a driver go faster in qualifying?
“Whether it’s in my head or there’s grip on the track, I always go faster when there’s a cloud out,” Mears said.
Mears’ quick lap late in qualifying bumped Martin Truex Jr.’s Chevrolet off what would have been Truex’s first career pole. He’ll start second on Sunday with a lap of 182.476 mph.
Truex is having a breakout season for Dale Earnhardt Inc., but he’s still looking for his first career pole.
“I feel like we’ll get one this year,” Truex said. “We came close today.”
Truex broke through for his first career victory at Dover International Speedway in June and ranks 10th in the series points standings – two spots ahead of star teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose move to Hendrick Motorsports next season will boost Truex’s profile at DEI next year.
But Truex thinks he can contend for this year’s championship.
“Obviously, we want to get in the chase – and once we get in it, we want to contend for the championship,” Truex said.
Ryan Newman qualified third in a Dodge, followed by Mark Martin and Earnhardt in Chevrolets.
“There’s already a second groove out there,” Newman said.
Michael Waltrip qualified a solid 28th, allowing him to make only his fourth start all season for his new Toyota team, Michael Waltrip Racing.
Among the drivers failing to qualify for Sunday’s race were Scott Riggs, Brian Vickers, Dale Jarrett, A.J. Allmendinger, Kevin Lepage and Kenny Wallace.