With a new low down force package on display for the first mile and a half race of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Casey Mears and the No. 13 GEICO Racing team knew the race would come down to tire management. But no one on pit road expected the opening 211 laps to be caution free, forcing numerous green flag pit stops. Mears took care of his fresh rubber, while the Germain Racing pit crew turned in a strong day on pit road, combining for a solid afternoon that saw the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS cross the finish line in the 14th position.
When the race weekend got underway, the Germain Racing team got off to a quick start at a track that previously caused them headaches. On Friday evening, Mears qualified his GEICO Chevrolet in the 15th starting position after advancing to the second round and zipping around the 1.54-mile oval in just 29.156-seconds, at a rate of speed of 190.150-miles per hour. He provided an encore performance on Saturday by posting the eighth fastest time during final practice.
As the sun heated the Georgia intermediate track, Mears saw the green flag wave and quickly collected a position and moved to 14th before reporting to his Germain Racing team that the car was plowing tight in the center of the corners. The veteran driver continued to complete laps while crew chief Bootie Barker encouraged his driver to give the GEICO machine time to come around. Barker's advice rang true and Mears continued to run strong in his GEICO Chevy as the laps clicked off.
The first 211 laps were caution-free, forcing Mears to make five green flag pit stops before the first yellow flag was displayed for debris on the track. During this long stretch of racing, Barker never made any substantial handling adjustments to the GEICO Chevrolet, as Mears consistently clocked times faster than his competitors while running inside the top-20. As the field restarted on lap 218, only 11 cars remained on the lead lap, leaving Mears battling a handful of other cars for the lucky dog award.
With 40 laps remaining, Mears delivered the GEICO Chevy to his crew for the final pit stop of the afternoon and soon after reported to his team that he felt a vibration inside the cockpit. "You're doing good man, just hang on to it until the end," encouraged Barker. The veteran driver did just that as he ran solidly in the 16th position, but he collected two spots on the final lap to bring home a 14th place finish and record the team's best-ever result at the fast, high-banked oval. This is also Mears' best finish at Atlanta since 2008, when he piloted the No. 5 entry for Hendrick Motorsports.
"The GEICO Racing team worked hard all weekend and we were rewarded with a solid finish today," said Mears after the race. "I didn't think we would go caution-free for as long as we did in the beginning, but our car was actually pretty good during that stretch. The clean air during the stops helped our car stay loose with the air on the nose. Once we had to restart in the traffic, the car would get tight. But overall, this is a great way to start the season and hopefully we continue to build off this."
After a tire came apart and ruined his day in Daytona and left him 31st in the point standings, Mears rebounded well in Atlanta and jumped eight spots to now rest in the 23rd position.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will now head to the west coast for three weeks of racing action, beginning with the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 6th.
Prior to the race weekend getting underway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be afforded a test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Thursday from noon - 6 PM (ET).
Casey Mears and the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS will hit the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the weekend's opening practice session on Friday, March 4th, at 1:30 PM (ET). Qualifying will follow at 7:45 PM (ET).
The Kobalt 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is on Sunday, March 6th, and it will be televised live on FOX beginning at 3:30 PM (ET). The Performance Racing Network (PRN) will carry the live radio broadcast, along with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.