After leading four times during the October 2012 race at Talladega Superspeedway, Casey Mears and his GEICO team arrived in Alabama eager to take to the 2.66-mile high-banked racetrack for practice. Mears delivered, sitting as high as 5th in the weekend’s first practice session before qualifying was later rained out, forcing him to start Sunday’s race from the 22nd position.
With impending weather on Sunday, most of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series planned a race to the halfway point, which would find them at lap 94 of a scheduled 188. Instead, the rain held off and allowed 123 laps of racing before showers and hail blanketed the speedway and forced a red flag that would last three and half hours.
When the green flag started the racing action, Mears was quick out of the gate and wasted little time rocketing to the front of the field. After starting 22nd, the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion found itself in the top ten by lap five and three laps later on lap eight, it was running in the fifth position. Multiple times, the GEICO Fusion was part of single-file breakaways that seemed conducive to avoiding peril. While running in the top 10 on lap 43, space became scarce for Mears when Kyle Busch collided with Kasey Kahne, sending both cars into the #13 Germain Racing entry, causing heavy frontend and side damage. The incident spurred a chain reaction crash that collected 13 cars in its web before the smoke had settled. While Mears had been pinned against the outside wall by Busch and Kahne, he reported to crew chief Bootie Barker that the car still had its steering and seemed to go straight. He quickly traveled down pit road to an awaiting Germain Racing pit crew. They were expedient in the repairs to Mears’ GEICO car and returned him to the racing surface just one lap down to the field.
If Mears’ car suffered from the crash the scoring monitor showed no indication, as he often found himself quicker than the cars in the top five and several times he was faster than the leader of the race. Sitting 33rd, in the Lucky Dog position, on lap 53, the GEICO driver desperately needed a caution, which would allow him to return to the lead lap. The caution never came and multiple cars would then go a lap down presenting a greater challenge for Mears and his team. The next caution that slowed the field was for rain on lap 123, ultimately resulting in a three and a half hour red flag.
When the rain departed the area and the field went back to racing at approximately 6:00 PM local time, Mears was just one lap down and poised to return to the lead lap quickly. He restarted in the 30th position on lap 130 and moved up to 27th on lap 134. Unfortunately, lap 135 heard an astonished Mears report to Barker that he was out of gas. He was able to make it to pit road to get his fuel tank refreshed, but went a total of three laps down in the process. The team later learned that the damage caused by the earlier crash had caused a kink in the fuel hose that left Mears a gallon and a half short on fuel.
While the crash and depleted gas tank derailed Germain Racing’s hope of a Talladega win, it certainly didn’t stifle the spirit of Mears and his GEICO crew, whose collective hard work and resilience helped to salvage a 24th place finish. This accounts for the team’s fifth top 25 effort of the 2013 season and Germain Racing has now taken the checkered flag in all but one race this year.
“We had a really fast car today and it was fun taking the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion straight to the front,” Mears said. “We raced really well and would have definitely had a shot at the win. The crash was unfortunate, but it’s part of racing here and also at Daytona. It’s extremely frustrating, but the team worked hard and never quit, which helped us get a decent finish in the end. Darlington is one of my favorite racetracks, so I’m excited to get there next week.”
The GEICO team will now attempt to dance with The Lady in Black next Saturday night in South Carolina.
Mears and the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion will hit the track at Darlington Raceway for the opening practice session on Friday, May 10th, at 11:30 AM (EDT). Qualifying will follow at 5:10 PM (EDT).