NASCAR Winston Cup rookie-of-the-year contender Casey Mears¿ last name is synonymous with the Indianapolis 500. However, this May the 25-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., native¿s attention will be focused squarely on another Memorial Day weekend classic¿the May 25 Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway.

As the month of May unfolds¿a time of year Mears once spent following the Indy 500 careers of his father, Roger Mears, and uncle and four-time Indy winner, Rick Mears¿the second-generation racer instead prepares for his first appearance in stock car racing¿s longest event.

Although part of his heart will always remain in open-wheel racing, Mears says he has found a home in NASCAR.

¿A lot of my heart is at Indy. Someday, I would like to run the Indy 500,¿ Mears said. ¿But NASCAR is a lot more ¿me¿ than I thought it would be.

¿There is one thing I can say now that I have run stock cars: I had a lot of hesitation coming in this direction, but now that I¿m here, now that I¿ve done it, I would not go back. I love it.¿

That Mears has managed a successful career in racing should be no surprise. However, some find it hard to comprehend how his career veered from its open-wheel roots.

¿My uncle retired in 1992. My dad raced at Indy in the late 1970s and early 1980s and I wasn¿t born until 1978,¿ Mears explained.

¿Indy has always been a huge part of my life, as far as my family and something I always looked forward to, but to be honest, because I lived in California and wasn¿t old enough to be in the pits, I never went to Indy until 1996 when I won a USAC championship.¿

Although his family had made several appearances in Victory Lane at Indy, the younger Mears¿ first visit to the track didn¿t come until he attended the USAC banquet.

¿Everybody finds it surprising. They¿re like, ¿What?¿¿ Mears said. ¿They don¿t believe I wasn¿t up there all the time.

¿I grew up in California. When my dad did go, he was there for a month. I would stay with some good friends of ours in California. For the longest time, my only connection to Indy was through TV.¿

Although he didn¿t grow up in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mears quickly began to show he had the racing talent his father and uncle demonstrated so well.

Mears won his first USAC race at age 16 and quickly rose through the open-wheel ranks. He made sporadic CART Champ Car appearances in 2001 and tested for some Indy Racing League teams, but had no solid commitment for the future.

¿Casey had been struggling to get things to happen for him on the open-wheel side. Then I went to work at Ganassi Racing and I started seeing the opportunities in NASCAR,¿ his father, Roger Mears, explained. ¿I told Casey he really needed to take a look at this. It just so happened that something got on his plate and it all happened from there.¿

Mears ran in the NASCAR Busch Series for Welliver-Jesel Motorsports in 2002. His year was filled with ups and downs, as he finished 21st in the standings with one top-five and two top-10 finishes.

Mears¿ team lost its sponsor at the end of the season and while he was exploring his options, Ganassi¿for whom Mears had done some testing¿came calling with an unexpected offer to drive the No. 41 Target Dodge in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

¿For the past couple of years, I had been hounding Chip about a ride. These days, so many things happen that you never dream of,¿ Mears said. ¿To get one year of Busch under my belt and then get a top-notch Cup ride, that¿s almost unheard of. It was surprising and exciting. I would not have taken it if I didn¿t think I could handle it.¿

Ganassi was convinced Mears would be a good addition to his organization.

¿The addition of Casey adds a lot of excitement and energy to the team,¿ said Ganassi, himself a former open-wheel driver. ¿Casey is a smart, talented driver who will be competitive week in and week out. We couldn¿t ignore Casey¿s talent behind the wheel. He has racing in his blood.¿

Tickets for the May 25 Coca-Cola 600 start at just $35 and can be obtained by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.