Mears trying to follow family tradition at Indy
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- Right now, tradition doesn't matter a lot to Casey Mears.
Mears carried a substantial family legacy to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Until he qualifies for the Indy 500, however, that history is secondary.
"I'm coming in with open eyes, but I haven't been around it much, to be honest," the 23-year-old son of former Indy driver Roger and nephew of four-time 500 winner Rick said of his racing heritage at Indianapolis.
"My family's been around it for a long time, but I was so young when my dad and my uncle were running here, I didn't spend much time here. So I'm just trying to soak everything in, learn as much as I can. The more I learn about it, the more I appreciate it."
Casey Mears finished second and third the past two years in the Indy Lights series. Driving for former Indy winner Bobby Rahal, he was fourth in his CART debut at California Speedway in October.
In January, car owner Rick Galles signed Mears and rookie Didier Andre of France to be IRL teammates for Al Unser Jr., a two-time Indy winner. Unser's father, Al Sr., and uncle, Bobby, combined for seven victories at the Brickyard.
Both Unser and Andre qualified for the May 27 race last weekend, but a crash in practice May 8 left Mears with a sore back and a lot of catching up to do on the track.
After the crash, he was examined at a hospital and released that night but was not cleared to drive until Thursday. He did not resume practicing until Friday, when he took only 25 laps with a top speed of just over 207 mph.
On Saturday, he had 53 laps of practice, reaching almost 217 mph. On Sunday, he managed 77 laps, boosting his top speed to 219.184. Even that probably would not be good enough to crack the lineup.
"It was a tough week for the team with Casey's crash," Unser said. "With Casey running into his problem on Tuesday, it really bit us. My guys were working on Casey's car, and Didier's guys were working on Casey's car. But now that we're in the show, it will give us time to regroup."
Mears is getting advice from his uncle, Rick, who has been an adviser for Team Penske since he retired as a driver almost nine years ago.
"Right now, he's working for Penske so his biggest priority is to make sure the team he works for is doing well," Casey Mears said. "But he's always kept an eye on me, looked out for me, and he's always been there to talk to."
The two Penske drivers, defending CART champion Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves, easily qualified last week. De Ferran, 29th in his only previous start at Indianapolis in 1995, was fifth-fastest at 224.406 mph. Castroneves, who won CART's Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach, Calif., in April, was 11th-fastest at 224.142.
The track is closed until Wednesday, when practice resumes. Others expected to make qualifying attempts on Sunday include Jim Guthrie, Steve Knapp, Billy Boat, Jimmy Kite, Stephan Gregoire, Eliseo Salazar and rookies Memo Gidley and Cory Witherill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.