After turning in four strong weeks of racing, Casey Mears and Germain Racing entered Homestead looking to close out the 2014 season in strong fashion. In just their second year of full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, the GEICO team wrapped up the season with one top-5 finish, three top-10's, nine top-15's and 16 top-20's. Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 complemented their stats when Mears hustled to a 20th place finish.
Practice got off to a slow start when Mears and his No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS ended up 31st on the scoring chart at the close of the first practice on Friday. Qualifying would show incremental improvement when he navigated the 1.5-mile paved oval in 30.390-seconds at a speed of 177.690-miles per hour, landing him 29th on Sunday's starting grid. Crew chief Bootie Barker and the Germain Racing engineering staff remained hard at work over the course of the weekend looking for speed that would increase their chances of success on race day.
A late start time of 3 PM (ET) would present teams with the challenge of starting the race in bright sunshine and finishing in cooler temperatures under a dark sky. Changing track conditions kept the GEICO crew on their toes as they adapted as the race progressed. Mears and his GEICO Chevy rolled off of the starting grid from the 29th position when the green flag started the final race of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
The early part of the race saw Mears battling a loose condition that would plague him until sunset. On lap 35, he radioed to Barker that he was "crazy loose". Finding himself two laps down to the field, Mears began to hustle as the clouds overtook the speedway. On lap 85, he was in the 28th position and said, "The track is cooling off with the cloud cover, so it's turning better. The adjustments we made on that last stop were in the right direction." He was running in the 26th position when he briefly fell victim to loose handling again on lap 126: "I'm too loose. I just can't go. I'm loose in, loose off." The team worked on the car during each pit stop and did it in prompt fashion, as Mears would gain positions multiple times on pit road.
The No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS returned to the lead lap on lap 223. Barker reminded Mears that he was now on the lead lap and to "get all you can get." He did just that, as he hustled into the top-20 and looked solid as the race entered the final few miles. A handful of caution flags in the closing laps kept everyone on edge, but Mears held on and crossed the finish line in the 20th position, accounting for the team's 16th top-20 finish of the 2014 season. Homestead concludes a five-week stretch of strong runs and, more importantly, a solid season that saw the team make improvements at tracks that previously caused them headaches. Notably, Germain Racing is credited with just a single 'Did Not Finish' (DNF) in 2014, a feat accomplished by very few teams.
"The guys did a really good job this weekend and we worked hard to get the GEICO Chevy handling better and it seemed to come to us when the cloud cover set in," Mears said. "It's nice to be able to wrap up the season on a strong note and get a top-20 finish at a racetrack that has been tough on us in the past. It's been a strong season and we've made a lot of progress on these intermediate tracks, which is a good sign as we get ready for the 2015 season." He added, "I want to thank GEICO, KMC Wheels, Castrol, Caymus and all of our partners for their support this year. And, I can't thank our owner Bob Germain enough for the investment he's made in the team. This is only our second full season of racing, so I'm proud of what we've accomplished, so far. Each year we get better, so we're looking forward to getting to Daytona in February and getting the 2015 season started."
Mears and the GEICO Racing team will get to enjoy the upcoming holiday season at home before traveling to Daytona Beach, FL, for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 22,2015.