When Mears took to the 1.99-mile road course for practice on Friday, he did it quickly. After being the 11th fastest car in the weekend's final practice session, he turned around on Saturday and out-hustled the bulk of the Sprint Cup Series field in qualifying after navigating the course in just 74.966-seconds. His effort placed the GEICO Chevy on the outside of row four, in the eighth position, on Sunday's Save Mart 350 starting grid.
There was not an open seat in the house when the racing action got underway amid perfect weather conditions on Sunday afternoon. Mears and his No. 13 GEICO Chevy rolled off of the starting grid from the eighth position and ran solidly in the top-10 until the event's first caution flag of the day was displayed on lap 21. Crew chief, Bootie Barker, ordered the Bakersfield, CA, native to pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. Eight of Mears' counterparts would opt to remain on the racetrack during the caution period, which means that he would restart from the 19th position when the race returned to green on lap 26. Mears continued making quick work of the field and landed in the 7th position by lap 53, as the race approached the halfway point.
Mears spent the afternoon effortlessly making his way around the course's 11 turns and looked to be on-track for a top-10 finish, but the closing laps would betray him. On lap 97 of 110, he reported a flat tire and quickly made his way to pit road where the Germain Racing crew outfitted him with four fresh tires and fuel. He no sooner returned to the racing surface before reporting that something on the car was broken. A lap later, his suspicions were confirmed when the rear-end housing on the racecar gave way, sending Mears' rear axle and tire bounding across the racetrack in dramatic fashion. It was a situation never seen or experienced by most people in auto racing. Mears was masterful in his save of the GEICO Chevy and was able to avoid peril. Missing a wheel and an axle, Mears' day was over with a mere 10 laps left in the race. In a brief moment, he went from eyeing a top-10 result to instead finishing 38th and ending an otherwise fast weekend.
"We were really fast all weekend and the guys on our Germain team did a nice job of preparing our No. 13 GEICO Chevy," Mears said. "Losing an axle and wheel is a very odd occurrence, so it's a tough way to end our day, especially since we were so fast. Although it's not the result we wanted, it was nice to show up here and be strong throughout the weekend. We're looking forward to getting to Daytona this week and putting the GEICO Chevy up front."
Mears and the GEICO team will now pay a visit to Daytona Beach, FL, one of their favorite venues on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. In February, they recorded back-to-back top-six efforts after finishing fourth in the Sprint Unlimited and a week later ending up sixth in the Daytona 500.
Casey Mears and the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS will hit the track at Daytona International Speedway for the weekend's opening practice session on Friday, July 3rd, at 3:00 PM (ET). Qualifying will take place on Saturday, July 4th, at 4:35 PM (ET).