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NASCAR: Mears exits Dream Team

Los Angeles Times
Casey Mears, who struggled as the fourth member of Hendrick Motorsports’ “dream team” in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, will be released after this season, the two sides announced Friday.
His replacement was not immediately named.
Separately, driver Greg Biffle agreed to drive the No. 16 Ford for another three years at Roush Fenway Racing.
Mears, a member of the famed Mears racing family of Bakersfield, Calif., has won only one race since moving to Hendrick last year from the team of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
He won the Coca-Cola 600 last year at Lowe’s Motor Speedway near Charlotte on a fuel gamble, and the victory also was Mears’ only win since he began driving in the NASCAR Cup series in 2003. Mears is 24th in points this year with only one top-five finish in Hendrick’s No. 5 Chevrolet.
“It’s been a total team effort, and Casey has worked as hard as anyone to help us improve,” Hendrick owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “None of us, Casey included, have been satisfied with the situation this season.”
Mears, 30, is the nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, and Casey’s father, Roger Mears, was an off-road racing champion.
But Casey has been overshadowed in stock-car racing by Hendrick’s other three drivers: Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time NASCAR title winner Jeff Gordon and, starting this year, Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver.
“It’s unfortunate that things have come out the way that they have, but at the same time, things happen for a reason,” Mears said at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s race.
“We’re just going to try to finish off the rest of this year as strong as we possibly can,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is a performance-based sport.”
Asked about next year, Mears said he was “talking to different people” and “there are some good opportunities out there,” but he declined to be more specific.
Gordon said the move “was a very, very difficult decision for Rick (Hendrick) because of the way personally we feel about Casey, but this is a business and I think Casey understands that.”
Mears’ departure was not unexpected. There had been growing speculation that he would be released, one of several rumors about potential driver changes for 2009.
There also has been speculation that veteran Mark Martin might leave his part-time ride in the No. 8 Chevy at Dale Earnhardt Inc. ó which he shares with Aric Almirola ó to take over the No. 5 Chevy next year, perhaps sharing that car with a younger driver as well.
But some other drivers ó including Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. ó also are currently available.
Biffle, meanwhile, ended speculation about his future by re-signing with Roush Fenway, where he has 12 career wins. Biffle, 38, is seventh in points this year and appears set to be among the 12 drivers who qualify for NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup title playoff.
“I weighed certainly all of my options out, and it felt like the 16 car is where I really wanted to spend my next three years driving,” he said.

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