Hendrick signs Mears to replace Vickers

Thursday, June 15, 2006

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Casey Mears was hired Wednesday to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, earning a seat with one of NASCAR's super-teams.

The move had been widely expected since last week, when Mears informed car owner Chip Ganassi he would not be coming back in 2007 on the same day Brian Vickers asked to be released from his Hendrick contract.

Mears and Vickers will finish this season with their current teams.

Before that, Mears had insisted he wanted to renew his deal with Ganassi. But when the No. 25 Chevrolet opened up, he quickly changed his mind. His new job will team him with four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, points leader Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.

Mears is very close friends with Gordon and Johnson -- he served in Johnson's wedding party two years ago -- but has a seasonlong feud running with Busch. That didn't deter owner Rick Hendrick from snapping him up to a multiyear deal.

"Casey is a talented driver and a high-character person who is going to be a great fit with our organization," Hendrick said. "He has the ability to win races and ultimately contend for championships, so we're thrilled to welcome him to Hendrick Motorsports."

Hendrick did not disclose terms of the deal, but said Mears would be with the team at least through 2009.

The 28-year old Mears is the nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears and followed that path into open-wheel. But he eventually changed course and moved to NASCAR, where he spent one season in the Busch Series before Ganassi hired him to drive a Nextel Cup car for the 2003 season.

He's shown improvement over the past three-plus seasons, although he is winless at all of NASCAR's levels. He's won two poles and has 21 top 10 finishes.

Mears finished second to Johnson in the season-opening Daytona 500 this year, and has been hovering right around the top 10 in points most of the season.

He also became the first full-time NASCAR driver to be part of a winning Grand American Rolex 24 team when the Ganassi team won that endurace race at Daytona in February.

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