While misfortune has gotten the best of Casey Mears and his Germain Racing team in previous weeks, it has only come about due to indiscretions of others on the racetrack. After Darlington, Mears and the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion have now played the role of victim in three of the last four races, finding themselves as collateral damage in crashes caused by others.
Mears was quick off of the truck in Darlington, sitting 15th on the scoring tower in the weekend’s opening practice session. He later suffered from a poor qualifying draw, 7th, but showed little affect when he sped around The Lady In Black in just 27.501 seconds/178.815 miles per hour, landing him 19th on the starting grid and accounting for Germain Racing’s best-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying effort at Darlington Raceway.
With the weekend off to a fast start, Mears and his GEICO team eagerly anticipated the green flag on Saturday night. The impending rain held off and a packed house watched a full 500-miles of racing on Mother’s Day weekend. Mears rolled off of the starting grid 19th and found the speed that he relied on in practice and qualifying. By lap 22, the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion was consistently faster than the leader. Aside from picking up positions, Mears also picked up debris on the grill of his Ford Fusion and it began causing a rise in the water temperature as airflow to the engine became restricted. With a normal threshold of 260-275-degrees, Mears radioed to crew chief Bootie Barker on lap 33 that his temperature gauge had hit the 300-degree mark. Barker ordered him down pit road immediately as the rising temperature would most likely result in a blown engine. After the crew removed a sizeable piece of plastic from the grill of the GEICO Ford, Mears departed pit road two laps down, in the 39th position.
While he found himself behind the eight ball, Mears picked up where he left off and once again began posting speeds faster than the leader of the race. He quickly cut through the field and wowed a Darlington crowd when, by lap 55, he had rejoined the lead lap and sat in the 15th position. When debris caused the caution flag to be displayed on lap 125, the GEICO driver radioed to his crew: “We have a good car. We definitely have something for these guys tonight.” Mears continued to turn fast lap times and ran solidly in the top 20 until visiting pit road for a scheduled green flag pit stop on lap 181. After taking on four tires and fuel, he retook to the racing surface and quickly reported a heavy vibration. He continued to fight the condition, but it only worsened and Mears was forced to travel down pit road under green for a fresh set of tires on lap 207.
While drivers normally are forced to compete against the track that’s Too Tough To Tame, Mears found the racing facility manageable; it would be his fellow drivers that would cause his premature exit from the 367-lap event. With just 56 laps left in the advertised distance, Mears was running on the high-side through turn four when Kurt Busch ran Paul Menard up into the rear fender of the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion sending Mears into the outside wall. Mears then suffered a hard hit as he struck the inside retaining wall after subsequent contact from Brad Keselowski. After being one of the fastest cars on the racetrack for the bulk of the evening, Mears would be relegated to a 37th place finish.
“It’s highly disappointing and frustrating because our #13 GEICO Ford Fusion was great tonight and it was fun to drive,” Mears said. “This is three races now where we were really good and ended up in the garage with a wrecked racecar. We have been really fast in practice and we’re happy with the progress we’re making, so it would be nice to be able to stay clean in one of these things and see how well we do. These guys on this Germain team have worked so incredibly hard and it shows in the speed we have. I feel bad for them because they commit so much time and effort to making us fast.” He continued, “We have a great group of people and we’ll persevere. The problems we’ve had have not been caused by us, so that’s the good news. We’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have good people and we’re making good progress. We’re excited to get to Charlotte.”
The next two weeks will allow the GEICO team to sleep in their own beds and spend some much deserved time at home, as they will race in Concord, NC, just 30-minutes from their race shop. This weekend is the Sprint Showdown, the prelude, if you will, to Memorial Day weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, a race won by Mears on May 27, 2007.
Mears and the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion will hit the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the opening practice session on Friday, May 17th, at 12:00 PM (EDT). Qualifying will follow at 5:15 PM (EDT).