Casey Mears beat the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field to Chicago when he arrived early Wednesday to begin making appearances on behalf of his primary sponsor, GEICO, who also held the naming rights for this weekend’s event, the GEICO 400. After sitting in downtown Chicago signing autographs for passersby on Michigan Avenue, he later turned country music judge and lent perspective on up and coming singer-songwriters. He then appeared multiple times over the course of the weekend at GEICO’s display areas around Chicagoland Speedway.
While the weather on Friday provided a perfect backdrop for practice, Mears and his Germain Racing team struggled. After ending up 32nd in practice, the challenge continued when Mears would be forced to go out sixth in qualifying. A poor qualifying draw resulted in the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion being relegated to the 31st position on the starting grid.
Chicagoland Speedway was to kick off the 2013 Chase, but it would first need to contend with Mother Nature. After rain forced the delayed start of the GEICO 400, Mears and his Sprint Cup Series counterparts rushed to their cars as NASCAR officials sent teams scrambling into a hurry up offense in an attempt to stay ahead of the impending weather. Rolling off 31st, Mears and his #13 GEICO Ford would have their work cut out for them. As early as lap 12, the Bakersfield, CA, native notified crew chief Bootie Barker that the car would not turn. Fortunately, lap 30 presented teams with a competition caution, allowing the Germain Racing team to make much needed adjustments to the GEICO Fusion. During his trip down pit road, Mears informed Barker: “The car is free in, won’t turn center off. The backend slides around and the frontend is not turning well.” The GEICO crew quickly provided him with four fresh tires, a tank of fuel and air pressure adjustments.
The adjustments were of great help and Mears had worked his way into the top ten before a scheduled green flag pit stop on lap 84 sent him to the attention of his Germain Racing pit crew. The car was tight, leading the team to refresh him with four tires, fuel and additional air pressure adjustments. Unfortunately, lap 108 saw the rain come and the red flag wave, halting racing action at the 1.5-mile tri-oval just 26 laps short of the halfway point, leaving the race scored as unofficial.
A five-hour rain delay ensued and teams would return to the track at around 10 PM (EDT) where skies were now dark and temperatures cold. Track conditions varied wildly from the daytime conditions they departed when the red flag was displayed. Frustration was on-deck and it was not long before it manifested itself. Blown engines were abound for some teams, while handling issues continued to plague Mears and his GEICO team. While the earlier changes made to the #13 Ford were of significant help, the night sky and winter temps sent the Germain crew back to the drawing board. After making up considerable ground before the rain delay, they were now forced to start over. Aside from a brief appearance in the top 15 that lasted a hand full of laps, starting on lap 220, Mears found himself nose-to-nose with his racecar for the bulk of the evening. When the checkered flag waved deep in the night, Mears and his GEICO team recorded a 30th place finish.
“The guys on this GEICO team did a good job making changes to the car during pit stops, but that rain delay really hurt us,” Mears said. “I felt like we were making up ground, but the rain delay really set us back, as it also did to a lot of the other teams out here. There are not many people in a good mood in this garage right now. The silver lining is that we were getting the GEICO Ford figured out and we were making progress until the rain came. I am happy for GEICO that NASCAR was able to get the race in because this is a huge deal for them and I was happy to be able to be a part of their activities this week. I’m proud to have a sponsor in GEICO that so strongly supports and activates our sport.”
Next on the schedule for the Germain Racing team is a trip to Loudon, NH.
Casey Mears and the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion will hit the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the weekend’s opening practice session on Friday, September 20th, at 12:00 PM (EDT). Qualifying will follow at 3:40 PM (EDT).