NASCAR Infineon diary: Toyota's Casey Mears

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NASCAR Infineon diary: Toyota's Casey Mears

June 2, 2011NASCAR PAGE NASCAR STANDINGSCASEY MEARS PROFILEEditor's Note: As part of the buildup to the June 24-26 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Weekend at Infineon Raceway, CSNBayArea.com will feature exclusive diaries from some of stock-car racing's biggest stars. This is our first entry.

Programming Note: Get set for the action on the track with Race Week, Thursday at 4 and 10 on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Casey Mears
Toyota Motorsports

Ive really enjoyed this year with my Germain Racing team. Bob Germain is a great owner, and our sponsor GEICO has just been awesome. Weve seen some huge steps of improvement with our No. 13 Toyota Camry since the tail end of last year and going into this season. I really enjoy working with my crew chief Bootie Barker.

Later this month, well be heading out west when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. I like road courses. I grew up racing mostly road courses when I ran open wheel stuff. Theyre a lot of fun and I enjoy driving them. Its fun to do something different throughout the year. Its a very difficult course to pass on, so thats a little bit frustrating at times. One of the things I like about this road course -- that we dont see at the other road courses we visit -- are the elevation changes. It is a very technical course. It gets very hot and slick, so it takes a good driver to really get around that place.

One of the trickiest turns at Infineon Raceway is Turn 11. Thats the corner you come around and see all those tires that everyone piles into and you try to stay away from those. Going into Turn 11 is the hardest braking youll do all day long. Its a pretty critical corner -- you can have a very fast lap going into Turn 11 and miss it just a little bit and really blow the whole lap. You try to maximize your braking as much as you possibly can and then get up against the tires as low as you can through the center, because thats where all the grip is and then head back down the front straightaway. Ive had times where Turn 11 is just the killer all day if the car wont turn -- it just kills you. Then again, if the car doesnt have forward bite, you cant get off of Turn 11.

The esses can also be tricky -- just the timing of those and hitting them properly. If the car rolls a little bit too much, you can get really sloppy through there. Ive had very different cars there over the years and various parts of the track have given me a bigger headache than others.

We only race at road courses twice a season, so we typically we have gone to VIR (Virginia International Raceway) and run a few laps before heading out to Sonoma. I have also gone to the Bob Bondurant school -- I went with Jimmie Johnson one time just to go through gears and just to do it. Just to get a few more laps and get a little more prepared for a road course.

I think it usually ends up being pretty hot out in Sonoma when we race, so you need to hydrate well and eat right so youre good until the end of the race.

While Im from California, I dont have too many friends and family that come up to the Sonoma race. Being from Bakersfield -- a six hour drive from Sonoma -- I typically get to see family when we go to Fontana, or even Vegas with it being a little closer sometimes because everybody wants to come to Vegas -- I catch up with them a lot there. But, I do see some friends and family that come up to Sonoma as well.

Fortunately, Ive been in the series now for quite a while, so theres been a lot of fun things that Ive done when we compete at Infineon Raceway. Just being in the Sonoma and Napa Valley area is nice. Its fun to have a little bit of wine tasting, but clearly were there to race during the weekend, so I dont get to indulge in a lot of that. I enjoy the area.

Infineon Raceway is one of those race tracks where we typically try to treat it as a vacation. We get a nice hotel and bring the family. We only have three off-weekends, so when you can treat a race a little like a vacation, it kind of helps. Thats been a lot of fun. My family wont get to come out this time. Im out there on my own this time because its too soon after the new baby. Theyll be holding down the fort at home.

Theres one place -- I believe its called, Press -- I really like to eat when Im out there. Its in St. Helena and its been my favorite.

Im planning on winning. Im going to do something a little different and were going to win there and have a good day. Its been a big focus this year with this team to just improve. I think anytime you go to a place like a road course, it adds enough variables where if we feel like we have a 10th-place car, we can make a call to win the race. Thats one thing I like about the road courses as well -- you dont always have to be the best car to win there. If you do your strategy right and you make the right decisions, the right calls and be smart -- you have an opportunity to win.

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

NASHVILLE – Apparently, one wake up call wasn’t good enough for the plummeting San Jose Sharks.
 
Just one day after suffering what was arguably their worst game under coach Pete DeBoer, Nashville put up a touchdown on the Sharks in a 7-2 win, giving San Jose its sixth straight defeat – all in regulation.
 
After getting outscored 13-3 the last two nights, including Friday’s 6-1 loss in Dallas, where do they go from here?
 
“In two years, last year and this year so far, we haven’t had one night like this almost. Now we have back-to-back nights,” Joe Pavelski said. “I think it’s just a reality check. A gut-check time.
 
“It’s on us as players. Bottom line is we haven’t put the effort in that we need to have right now, and it snowballed on us a little bit at times. I think we’ve got to take a deep breath and really take a look in the mirror, refocus a little bit and understand there’s hockey out there, but it’s not going to fix itself.”
 
What has to be fixed immediately is the defensive structure that has been so vital to the Sharks’ success in the Pete DeBoer era. Even when the club was going through stretches of struggling to score, as it was earlier in the season, it was still collecting points in the standings with its ability to limit the opposition’s scoring chances.
 
While the game against the Predators was actually a little better in that regard, believe it or not, it was still nowhere near the level it needs to be for the postseason. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s absence was partly to blame for that, but the Brent Burns-Paul Martin pair has been a disaster lately. Both have a minus-nine rating during the six-game losing streak, and that number is indicative of how they’ve looked, too.
 
“We’re giving up some goals. It’s a combination of things,” DeBoer said. “Obviously it’s not good enough to win games, so we’ve got to figure it out. I don’t have an answer standing here for you, but I know our group. Every team I’ve ever coached has a tough part of the season. This is obviously ours. We’ll regroup, and figure it out.”
 
Burns, who admitted to a “bad read” on Nashville’s second goal when Roman Josi sped around him, said: “It’s a tough league when you’re not executing little things.”
 
The Sharks actually looked strong early, poised to put the Dallas disaster behind them. The first few shifts, they had the puck in the Nashville end.
 
But Tomas Hertl was outmuscled behind the net by Colin Wilson on Colton Sissons’ goal at 4:14, Burns got beat on the second, and the Sharks never recovered. Patrick Marleau’s second period power play goal offered life, but that was extinguished 24 seconds later when James Neal answered with a power play goal of his own. The Sharks never got closer than two goals after that.
 
“When things are going bad, those are the things that are happening,” Burns said of Neal’s response to Marleau’s marker. “So, you’ve just got work through it."
 
Will they be able to work through it with just seven games left in the regular season, though? That this cold spell is happening in late March doesn’t speak well to the Sharks’ chances in the postseason, which begins in just two-and-a-half weeks.
 
Burns said: “Right now we should be just tightening up everything. … We've got figure it out pretty soon.”

Sharks forward Haley could face supplemental discipline from NHL

Sharks forward Haley could face supplemental discipline from NHL

NASHVILLE – Sharks forward Micheal Haley could be in line for supplemental discipline from the league, after earning a match penalty in the third period of Saturday’s 7-2 loss in Nashville.
 
After absorbing a borderline hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok, Haley tracked down the Predators forward and promptly delivered a left jab to Jarnkrok’s face at 12:56 of the final frame, with the Sharks trailing 5-2 at the time.
 
Naturally, there were differing opinions from the two head coaches on the play.
 
Pete DeBoer said: “When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth.”
 
Predators coach Peter Laviolette told reporters: "It's an ugly play. This isn't the wild, wild west. I mean, Calle hit him. We took a penalty. If we start doing that, we're in trouble, so hopefully it gets looked at."
 
Any player who earns a match penalty "shall be automatically suspended from further competition until the commissioner has ruled on the issue,” according to league rules.
 
In 54 games this season, Haley has two goals and nine assists for 11 points. His 110 penalty minutes is fifth in the league.
 
Jarnkrok did not return after the punch, but told reporters after the game he felt “OK.”
 
"I feel pretty good," Jarnkrok said. "Obviously, I saw him coming. There were a couple other guys coming, too. I didn't really know what to do. He got in a good punch on me.”