May 27, 2007 1:30 am EDT

Casey at the bat
By Jerry Bonkowski, Yahoo Sports

Mears' own name is on the map. (Getty Images)
CONCORD, N.C. – Rick Mears made the family name synonymous with Memorial Day success with four Indianapolis 500 victories.

The first chapter of another Mears' Memorial Day tradition was written Sunday, only this time it came not at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but at Lowe's Motor Speedway, as Casey Mears reached victory lane for the first time in his Nextel Cup career, winning the Coca-Cola 600.

After 155 winless starts, Rick Mears' diminutive nephew came through with a finish that unquestionably made his uncle proud, but also one that could mark the start of finally hearing that famous surname much more frequently in the NASCAR world.

"My family has had an unbelievable history in racing and I've always wanted to make my mark in history with my family," Casey Mears said after his fuel mileage-aided victory here at Lowe's.

That he chose to make his own kind of history almost 16 years to the date of his uncle's fourth and final Indy 500 win made Sunday's victory all that much more special.

"That's pretty cool," Mears said. "I'd say something better, but I may tear up a bit. I watched my uncle win four races on this day, and man, what a special day just because of that."

Many critics wondered if that day would ever come. Even Mears started to question his own ability to carry on the family's winning tradition.

He was in way over his head when he came to the Cup series in 2003. We knew it and he knew it.

But following the stick-to-it-iveness example set forth by his uncle and his own father Roger, a noted racer himself, Casey never gave up – even during the darkest points of his budding Cup career when it seemed he could do everything wrong and nothing right.

"All my emotions for the last four or five years, it's built up," he said. "It's been frustrating to have the runs we've had, to get so close and not come home with it. But to finally seal the deal and come home with a win has just been unbelievable and a great place to start."

Or, to put it more succinctly, Mears added simply, "I had a 10,000-pound gorilla just jump off my back."

So now that he's earned his first career Cup win in the same race that famous teammate Jeff Gordon won his first, where does Mears go from here?

"We're going to go out and back it up from here the rest of the season," Mears said. "I always in the back of my mind had the confidence that we could do this."

He becomes the fourth Hendrick Motorsports driver to win a race this season and heads to Dover next week with a level of confidence he's never known to this point in the world of stock car racing.

"We've proven in the past we could run up front, just never quite came home with it," Mears said. "Today is just a great day and solidified a lot of that."

There's an old saying in racing that the first win is always the hardest. After a driver finally gets that breakthrough triumph, history has proven that it's generally easier to win No. 2, No. 3 and so on.

The younger Mears was either on hand or watched on TV as his uncle blazed to one Indy 500 win after another, ultimately sharing the most career wins at the legendary 2½-mile track with two of the biggest names in Indy Car racing, Al Unser Sr. and A.J. Foyt.

He saw the excitement leading up to the checkered flag and the exuberant aftermath and told himself that, if fate and luck would have him, he'd be in that same place someday in his own racing career.

Sunday, Casey Mears found his way to that place.

Despite all the frustration he's endured, even the recent rumors that he might be pushed aside to make room in the Hendrick camp for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mears persevered just like his famous uncle and father did so many times in their own respective careers.

Up until Sunday, he was a Mears in name only. But from now on, he's proven he not only belongs, but that he may finally be ready to make his a name for himself.

"I've had a lot of people ask me if I'd like to be at Indianapolis," Mears said. "I'd love to do that at some point, but I really feel like I'm at home here and I love driving stock cars now."

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Updated on Monday, May 28, 2007 1:30 am, EDT

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