Just five laps remained in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when driver Casey Mears and his Germain Racing team unloaded their No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS at Talladega Superspeedway for practice on Friday. Mears has experienced considerable success at the legendary facility and looked to continue his pattern of recording strong finishes at restrictor-plate racetracks. While his car would be fast in the race, Mears' day would be spoiled by unpredictable, external factors.
Mears and his GEICO Chevy got off to a quick start to the weekend when they shot up the speed charts during the weekend's opening practice session and ended up eighth quickest. He finished up happy hour 18th on the board on Friday afternoon before returning to the track on Saturday for qualifying, where he would collect a 28th place starting position.
Gray skies and mild temperatures set the backdrop for Sunday's CampingWorld.com 500. Mears started the race from the 28th position, but by the conclusion of the opening lap, he had pedaled the No. 13 GEICO Chevy up to 15th, collecting 13 spots in a single whirl around the racetrack. He would back out of the draft and land as low as 33rd, but he piloted the GEICO Chevy back up to the top-10 at will. Armed with a fast racecar, Mears navigated the 2.66-facility with supreme patience in order to avoid any potential peril.
Mears was confident and his GEICO Chevy was fast, but he would face an unnecessary challenge as he looked to make a scheduled green flag pit stop on lap 118. He waved his hand all the way through turns one and two, along with weaving his car, in order to alert his fellow drivers that he was preparing to pit. Despite the requisite signaling, the No. 38 car of David Gilliland made heavy contact with the right rear of Mears' No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet as he entered pit road. The result was Mears flying through the infield grass as he masterfully prevented a wreck that would have caused further harm to his racecar. He delivered his damaged GEICO Chevy to the Germain Racing pit crew, who immediately provided him with fresh tires, fuel and repairs. Soon after departing pit road, Mears was alerted that he was assessed a penalty for being too fast on entry to pit road. While the contact with Gilliland was the obvious cause of Mears' unwanted acceleration, he would be forced to serve the 'drive-thru' penalty nonetheless, leaving him two laps down to the field.
Despite the setback, Mears and the GEICO team continued to battle hard throughout the last 70 laps of the race. In uncharacteristic fashion at Talladega, the first caution flag of the day would not manifest itself until lap 131 when the engine expired on the No. 51 car of Justin Allgaier. This gave Mears and company the opportunity to take the wavearound and recover one of their two laps. When the race returned to green, the GEICO Chevy quickly moved into the free pass position, but a much-needed caution would not show up in time. When a green-white-checkered finished settled things on Sunday afternoon, Mears would be relegated to an undeserved 31st place finish.
"It was a long day all the way around," Mears said after the race. "Talladega is a track where we usually run really well, so days like today are additionally frustrating. The GEICO team worked hard and we got ourselves in position to get back on the lead lap so we could race to the front, but we never got the caution that we so badly needed. Everyone is excited to get to Martinsville next week because it's a place where we've been strong in the past."
The GEICO team will now journey less than 100-miles from Germain Racing's headquarters in Mooresville, NC, to do some short-track racing at the ½-mile paperclip-shaped oval in Martinsville, VA.