The weather for this weekend's "Pure Michigan 400" couldn't have been more opposite than what the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS team experienced during their June visit to Michigan International Speedway. Sunday's temperatures were warm and the sun was bright over the lively crowd that gathered in the Irish Hills to watch Casey Mears and 42 other drivers race through 200 laps of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action.
Mears and the Germain Racing crew entered Sunday's race confident in the changes they made to the GEICO Chevy during Saturday's two practice sessions, which saw them find the much desired speed that would assist in their trek to the front on race day. The confidence was welcome following a frustrating Friday at the Brooklyn, MI, track that saw the car tighten up in qualifying and relegate Mears to a 40th place starting position.
As the Sprint Cup Series field approached the green flag, Mears radioed to the crew that he was going to be cautious in an attempt to avoid any potential calamity in the opening laps. He, like fans, TV crews, teams and officials alike, wanted to see how the pack of 43 racecars featuring the high-drag aero package would react.
As it turned out, when the event got underway, the field failed to complete even a single lap of green-flag racing before David Ragan brought out the day's first yellow flag. During the subsequent caution laps, the television broadcast partner, NBC Sports Network, showed that the in-car temperature for Mears inside the GEICO Chevy was at 109 degrees Fahrenheit and climbing. Simultaneously, the scoreboard indicated that Mears betrayed his intention of a conservative race start and instead rocketed forward and gained seven positions on the opening lap.
Mears continued his charge from 40th before the competition caution took place at lap 20. The team pitted under the yellow flag for two tires and pulled a piece of tape from the nose of the racecar. Mears told the crew he didn't want the chassis to be any looser, and that overall he felt it was good. His only note would be that his temperatures had been a bit high during the early laps.
Crew chief Bootie Barker asked Mears, "Is the racing as fun as it looks?" Mears said it was. He was a bit frustrated that the car ahead can control some of the moves available for the trailing car, but it was fun nonetheless.
Mears' on-track racing and the pit crew's quick work had moved the No. 13 GEICO Chevy up to P26 for the restart on lap 25. Mears had collected an attention-grabbing fourteen positions and aimed to reach the leaders.
At lap 47, he was in 19th place after moving up 21 positions from the start of the race, but Mears said his water pressure gauge indicated he had no water pressure. He continued turning quick lap times and let the crew know that the car was running great with the only exception being the absence of pressure on the water pressure gauge. He reset his gauges and relayed to crew chief Bootie Barker that they showed a water temperature of 210. Mears hoped the gauge was registering low due to the tape having been pulled from the grill of the GEICO Chevy.
By lap 50, unfortunately, it was clear that pulled tape was not the culprit. Mears radioed to the team, "No, something is wrong. I'm coming in." He then drove to pit road where the crew assessed the problem with the water pressure and surmised that the race day was over after having witnessed Mears lead a charge that saw the GEICO Chevy collect 21 positions and consistently log top-12 lap times in just the opening 50 laps.
"From what I understand, it was a clamp," Mears explained as the crew prepared the GEICO Chevy for the ride back to North Carolina. "The motor didn't break per se, it did eventually, but there is a Wiggins clamp that is on one of the lines that comes out of the radiator. The clamp itself actually broke (at the water pump). So the motor wasn't getting water to cool off and it just burned up and broke. It's unfortunate. We had a really rough weekend to start here, but got it turned around. We made up some ground in happy hour...and then they made good calls to start the race. The GEICO car was really fast and I was able to pass a lot of cars pretty quick, so I thought we were going to have a really competitive day."
With the lap times Mears was logging, it appeared certain the GEICO Chevy would finish in the top-15 rather than the 42nd place finish that was recorded. Mears slipped to 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Drivers Points Standings, but sits a mere 38 points out of the top-20.