As the 70s throwback weekend unfolded, storylines of old school racing returned, with tire management and the low down force package taking center stage. Crew chiefs up and down pit road knew fresh tires were going to be key towards the end of the Bojangles Southern 500 and with a significant fall off after 40 laps of racing, drivers wanted rubber as often as possible.
Despite rolling off from the 32nd position, Mears quickly moved into 26th-place with in the first five laps of green flag racing. The veteran driver radioed to his team that the GEICO Chevrolet was "plowing" in the corner and this tight handling condition plagued the driver until lap 90 when Mears reported the car was much freer than before. A timely caution, one of a total 18 yellow flags, came on lap 119, as Mears was able to receive the Lucky Dog Award and return to the lead lap while holding the 26th position.
Just past the halfway point of the race, while consistently running inside the top-25, Mears was on the move in the 22nd position. Crew chief Bootie Barker strategically made calls of whether to take fresh or scuff tires, managing a limited amount of sets before the final run. Unfortunately, the Lady in Black delivered misfortune with just 27 laps of racing remaining when Mears felt a vibration inside the GEICO Chevrolet. With the condition worsening, Mears visited pit road under green for four tires and fuel, as he radioed a gear issue was taking place. Even with the loss of second and third gears, Mears manage to regain a lap and cross the finish line in the 29th position.
"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with Bob," said Mears. "Gail was a strong woman and will be missed. Tonight's race felt like a Darlington of old with tires wearing out though. We had ourselves in position to make a final charge at the end but then I felt a vibration, which ended up being the transmission. I was left with only first and fourth gears. Tough break for us at Darlington, but you can't help to still love this place."
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday, September 12th. The green flag will wave shortly after 7:30 p.m. ET and NBC Sports Network will carry live television coverage. The Motor Radio Network (MRN) and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, channel 90 will also provide live radio analysis of the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins.