Casey Mears and the GEICO team arrived in Bristol after three strong weeks of racing. After sitting on the Pole at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2012, the team always looks forward to returning to the half-mile facility.
Unfortunately, the weekend saw them confronting and solving issues from the second practice session until nearly all the way through the race to the checkered flag.
When Mears took his No. 13 GEICO Chevy onto the high-banks at the World's Fastest Half-Mile for first practice on Friday, he was pleased with the effort and felt confident about qualifying after posting the 22nd fastest time in that session.
The final practice session would leave the team scratching their heads while looking for the solution to why they were now bringing up the rear of the field. Scouring the car for problems, the team discovered the bracket that holds the track bar in place had broken, which would explain the handling issues Mears had to contend with during happy hour. After resolving the issue, the tea m went with the best qualifying set-up possible based on the data gathered from the first practice session.
As qualifying got underway and Mears began his warm-up lap, the GEICO Chevy broke loose, sending him into the outside retaining wall, causing a cut right-front tire. NASCAR would not allow the team to replace the tire, leaving Mears without a qualifying lap and relegating him to the rear of the field for the start of Saturday night's race.
Starting from the 43rd position on the .533-mile bullring at Bristol means that at the drop of the green flag, Mears would already be a half of a lap down to the leaders. Crew chief Bootie Barker and the GEICO team went into the challenge focused on making strategic calls that would advance him with every opportunity.
Reporting that the car was extremely loose from the start, the team collaborated while Mears was able to pick up ten positions before the "competition caution" that came at lap 60. The team would pit at lap 63 for four tires, fuel and track bar adjustments, returning to the track in the 33rd position.
By lap 100, Mears was reporting more of the same, simply stating, "I have zero grip." Crew chief Bootie Barker made the call to "take a big swing at it," and when the caution flag reappeared, Mears delivered his GEICO Chevy to the Germain pit crew, who outfitted him with four tires, fuel, wedge, track bar and air pressure adjustments.
Mears soon radioed that the car was responding to the adjustments, but he was still unable to race the GEICO Chevy as hard as he would like. Opportunities to pit were plentiful in the next 80 laps, however, and the car was improving, as Mears began turning top ten lap times as the race began to wind down.
The Germain Racing crew worked tirelessly throughout the night to make the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS competitive. In the end, Mears was able to collect 17 positions on a track where passing is at a premium, and record a 26th place finish. Impressively, he was able to finish the race with the car in one piece and also gain a spot in the point standings where he now sits alone in the 23rd position.
Next weekend will find Mears and his GEICO team celebrating Labor Day weekend in Hampton, GA.