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.

Giants spring training Day 39: Nuñez receives pair of cortisone shots

Giants spring training Day 39: Nuñez receives pair of cortisone shots

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford will return to camp Thursday, show off their WBC championship medals, and then head to nearby Salt River Fields to take on the Colorado Rockies. It'll be a few more days, however, before the Giants have their full infield on the field. 

Eduardo Nuñez said he actually got two cortisone shots in his right shoulder, since an MRI this week showed “something” in two separate spots. Nuñez asked for the MRI because, while he was able to play and make strong throws, he felt pain on a daily basis. He might DH this weekend, but it'll be a few more days before he's cleared to begin throwing. 

The Giants are hopeful that the shots calm all this down, and Nuñez anticipated being ready for Opening Day. Still, it certainly sounds like this will be a close call. Conor Gillaspie, who is having a huge spring, could get plenty of early time at third. Manager Bruce Bochy doesn't anticipate Nuñez missing Opening Day.

"He should be ready," Bochy said. 

The Giants need all the good injury news they can get. It is expected that Will Smith will announce Friday that he's having Tommy John surgery. 

ICYMI: From this morning, a feature on George Kontos and his rise over the last few years. 

Also, one of the bench candidates, Gordon Beckham, asked for his release. The Giants will soon have to make decisions on Hill and David Hernandez, who have similar retention bonuses due March 28.

GAME RECAP: The Giants played one of their uglier games of the spring, losing 9-2 to King Felix and the Mariners … Matt Moore lasted just 1 2/3 innings, giving up four runs on four hits, two walks, a balk and a wild pitch. It was the same old thing: Moore just all of a sudden lost his command, and because he got up past the 30-pitch mark in the second inning alone, the Giants cut it off. Moore went down to the bullpen and got up to around 80 pitches. He'll make one more start down here, Tuesday against the Cubs ... Joe Panik had a hard double, one of just four hits for the Giants … Chris Marrero hasn’t played a whole lot of left field this spring, and he didn’t show much to the coaches on a couple of opportunities to throw home. The left field situation remains a mystery. 

POSITION BATTLES: Kelby Tomlinson played six innings of left field in a minor league game, and he had to wait until the sixth to get his first and only fly ball. There seemed to be a lot of interest from decision-makers about how Tomlinson fared, and his action today opens up an intriguing possibility. There’s a roster permutation that has the Giants keeping just one reserve outfielder (Gorkys Hernandez) and three backup infielders: Conor Gillaspie, Aaron Hill and Kelby Tomlinson, with the latter two being options in left field. 

FAMILIAR FACE: Angel Pagan made it through the WBC healthy, and he apparently is drawing interest from the Phillies and Blue Jays. Giants people are confident Pagan will get a big league job somewhere over the coming week. 

Giants reliever Will Smith leaning toward season-ending Tommy John surgery

Giants reliever Will Smith leaning toward season-ending Tommy John surgery

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Left-hander Will Smith, a key piece of a revamped bullpen, is leaning toward having Tommy John surgery, manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday night. 

Bochy said surgery was the recommendation of both doctors who examined Smith's elbow this week. Smith will talk to his agent before coming to a final decision on Friday. The procedure would keep Smith out the entire 2017 season and likely would cause him to miss the start of the 2018 season.

Smith, 27, missed the first month of camp because of pain in his throwing elbow. He returned March 17, but during a March 20 outing he again felt pain and called for a trainer. A second round of diagnostics revealed a strain and a sprain in the elbow. Smith saw team orthopedist Dr. Ken Akizuki in San Francisco and flew to Los Angeles this week to get a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlen-Jobe Clinic. 

"They had the same opinion," Bochy said. "There is a tear there. You can try to rehab it and if that doesn't work you're behind a couple of months ... It's not a definite he's going to have it done, but two doctors are in agreement on what this is."

Smith was expected to serve as the late lefty for the Giants, getting setup work in the seventh and eighth innings. With Smith out, the Giants will lean on young lefties Steven Okert, Josh Osich and Ty Blach. 

"We're going to have to have someone step up and help us in the seventh and eighth," Bochy said. "That was going to be will's role. He's a guy we were leaning on."

Smith was acquired from the Brewers at the deadline last season in exchange for right-hander Phil Bickford (who is currently serving a 50-game suspension) and catcher Andrew Susac (who is currently injured). After a shaky start, he finished the regular season with 18 consecutive scoreless appearances. 

The Giants have for the most part avoided Tommy John for 40-man roster pitchers. Hunter Strickland, Derek Law and Josh Osich have all had it during their time in the organization, along with outfielder Mac Williamson. Prospect Ian Gardeck is currently recovering from Tommy John. The last Giants pitcher who was likely headed for the roster before having Tommy John was left-hander Eric Surkamp. He had surgery in 2012.

The timetable is different for every pitcher, but the general consensus is that the procedure sidelines a pitcher for at least a year, and usually closer to 16 months. Matt Moore, Thursday night’s starter, had Tommy John on April 23, 2014. He did not return to a big league mound until July 2, 2015, and even then, he was under restrictions. 

Smith is under team control for two more seasons after this one.