A restrictor-plate specialist of sorts, Casey Mears always looks forward to visiting Daytona International Speedway. While he planned on being behind the wheel of the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS for the 2015 Daytona 500, he added to those plans when, just two weeks ago, he was notified by NASCAR that his status in the point standings made him eligible to participate in this year's Sprint Unlimited. It's a 25-car, 75-lap shootout that historically kicks off each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and includes race winners, pole sitters and Chase contenders from the previous season. Team owner Bob Germain made the decision to do it and off the Germain Racing team went to Daytona with an extra race on their schedule.
The team welcomed the additional workload and Mears made them proud at the World Center of Racing on a chilly Valentine's Day in Daytona. A random draw dictated that Mears and his GEICO Chevy would roll off of the starting grid from the 23rd position when the race got underway on Saturday night. Pitted against NASCAR's best and brightest, Mears wasted little time making his way to the front of the field. The green flag turned the field loose under the lights at 8:35 PM (ET) and the GEICO Chevy began making its way through traffic. He broke into the top-10 and sat in the seventh position on lap 15. The event's first caution flag of the night slowed the field on lap 22, allowing Mears to bring his No. 13 GEICO Chevy down pit road for service. He took on four tires, fuel and adjustments before restarting the race from the 15th position on lap 29.
The race featured two red flags, the first of which was a close call for Mears, whose harrowing escape was a thing of legends. On lap 46, Jamie McMurray got loose and spun down before heading back up the track into a pack of cars. Mears avoided peril multiple times by quickly weaving between the carnage. He did a masterful job of wheeling his GEICO Chevy and managed to escape the incident without contact.
As the laps clicked off, Mears and his counterparts once again found themselves under a red flag condition, but this time with just five laps remaining in the advertised distance. The race would turn out to be a true shootout, which sent fans to their feet for the final moments of the 187.5-mile event. The green flag waved for the final time with four laps to go. Mears restarted from the sixth position and began hustling his No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS around the 2.5-mile high-banked facility. When the checkered flag halted an intense, spirited race that later saw Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick nose-to-nose, Mears crossed the finish line in the fourth position, marking a charge from the rear of the field and notching a top-five finish to kick off the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
"It was a great night and I'm happy for everyone on this GEICO team, it's a positive start to the season," Mears said after the race. "I want to thank Bob Germain (team owner) for the opportunity because we were in a position here to take advantage of this and run this race and he stepped up and made it happen. It's really cool that the GEICO Chevrolet ran strong all night. We got in that bottom lane and just kept getting bogged down and couldn't get the big run at the end. I think it shows how we can perform at these places and we are looking forward to this week. Thanks to GEICO for their great support, as well as all of our partners that help us get to the track each week. We're glad the season is off to a positive start."
Mears and the Germain Racing crew will get very little rest before turning their attention to Daytona 500 qualifying at 1:35 PM (ET) on Sunday, February 15, which can be seen live on FOX.
The Budweiser Duel 150 qualifying races will be held on Thursday, February 19th, beginning at 7 PM (ET). They will be televised live on FoxSports1.
The Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is on Sunday, February 22nd, and it will be televised live on FOX beginning at 1:00 PM (ET). The Motor Racing Network (MRN) will carry the live radio broadcast, along with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.