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Mears brings full day's worth of joy

Casey Mears was the only Nextel Cup driver entering Speedweeks on a true wave of momentum. Sure, Greg Biffle won the last Nextel Cup race of the 2005 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but that was in November. Mears all but has confetti left in his hair after co-piloting Ganassi Racing's victorious Rolex 24 sports car entry at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 29.

Though the 24-hour race made him "half-delirious" from sleep deprivation and needing rest more than celebration, it gave him a growing feeling of confidence at Daytona with the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday. That said, he admits a win in a Toyota sports car won't help him wrestle his No. 42 Dodge to Victory Lane, especially since his career-best finish in the 500 is 14th in 2004.

"I feel really good about Daytona. (The Rolex victory) really doesn't apply much to this side of things, you kind of clean the slate, (but) it gives you a good feeling going in," he said. "You've won a race in the Texaco fire suit. Those guys are fired up. The team is fired up. At the end of the day, as far as applying what we did on that side and applying it here doesn't work. It's just two different things."

And if his win with Scott Dixon and St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon slips his mind, the Rolex watch he won will remind him.

"The best thing I've done with it so far was when Tony (Stewart) was doing his interviews over there I gave him a hug and put the watch up in front of his face," Mears said, smiling. "He's a good sport. He's a guy that's going to get one of these one day. I don't want to rub it in too bad. Tony can get mad sometimes, so I gave him a little bit and walked off."

ANOTHER RIDE: Zephyrhills native David Reutimann will drive a Dodge co-owned by Michael Waltrip and FitzBradshaw in the Busch series opener Saturday.

SPARK PLUGS: On-track activity resumes at DIS on Wednesday. Will Ferrell's new NASCAR sendup, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, is set for release by Columbia Pictures on Aug. 4. The movie, co-written by Ferrell, celebrates Bobby (Ferrell), whose "win at all costs" approach has made him a national hero, but is challenged by a new French driver, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen).

- BRANT JAMES, Times staff writer


+ What they do: The Head And Neck Safety, or HANS, device and similar restraint systems are designed to impede the whiplash-like forward movement of a driver's head in a collision.

+ Pros: The HANS has been shown to prevent the whip action that causes the sort of skull fracture that killed drivers Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Dale Earnhardt.

+ Cons: Some drivers, especially in NASCAR, which has a larger driver area than openwheel cars, complain the device is uncomfortable, restricts their head movement and makes it difficult to exit the car quickly in the event of fire.

Source: HANS

The helmet and collar are joined to support the head and neck.

A yoke-type collar is held to the driver's chest by the shoulder harness.