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Mears takes pole at Chicagoland Speedway

Casey Mears drives during practice Friday for the NASCAR USG Sheetrock 400 auto race. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Casey Mears drives during practice Friday for the NASCAR USG Sheetrock 400 auto race. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Casey Mears turned a lap of 182.556 mph in his Chevrolet on Friday in Joliet, Ill., 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 said 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.

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 with a lap of 182.476 mph.

Ryan Newman qualified third in a Dodge, followed by Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Chevrolets.

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 were Scott Riggs, Brian Vickers, Dale Jarrett, A.J. Allmendinger, Kevin Lepage and Kenny Wallace.

Earnhardt, sponsor part

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaves his late father’s team to drive for Hendrick Motorsports next season, longtime corporate sponsor Budweiser won’t go with him.

The Hendrick team announced that Budweiser would not continue as the sponsor of Earnhardt’s car next season because of Hendrick’s “long-term contractual commitments to existing sponsors.”

Earnhardt announced in June that he would leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. to join the Hendrick team next season, but Hendrick has not made it clear what number car Earnhardt will drive or who his sponsor will be.


Scott Dixon edged Dario Franchitti, the man he’s chasing in the IndyCar Series, to take the pole at the Nashville Superspeedway in Gladeville, Tenn.

Dixon is coming off his first win of the season at Watkins Glen and trails Franchitti by 47 points heading into today’s Firestone Indy 200.

Dixon’s qualifying speed was 204.414 mph on the 1.33-mile oval, and Franchitti came in at 203.873 mph. They are followed by Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish Jr.

Dixon said his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team has a plan to catch Franchitti in the point standings.

“We will apply pressure to them – make them have a small mistake – and that’s going to be the only way we can close that gap,” he said.