A restrictor-plate specialist of sorts, Casey Mears always eagerly anticipates the opportunity to race at Talladega Superspeedway. This weekend's GEICO 500 gave the Bakersfield, CA, native the opportunity to do just that. Coupled with Germain Racing's prowess at restrictor-plate facilities, Mears seemed poised for success when his sponsor's marquee weekend got underway on Friday.
Mears wasted little time settling in at the legendary superspeedway and by the time the weekend's first practice session came to a close, the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS was sitting seventh on the speed chart. Qualifying followed suit, as Mears zipped around the high-banked tri-oval in just 50.196-seconds, at a speed of 190.772-miles per hour. A heavy wind picked up on the backstretch during his qualifying run, thwarting an otherwise top-10 qualifying effort and placing him 20th on Sunday's GEICO 500 starting grid. Cars that immediately followed Mears during the qualifying session would also fall victim to the conditions and find themselves far below Mears in the starting lineup, serving as further evidence of the strength and speed of the No. 13 GEICO Chevy heading into Sunday's event.
When the GEICO 500 went green at 12:02 PM local time on Sunday, Mears and his GEICO Chevy rolled off of the starting grid from the outside of row 10, in the 20th position. Just four laps into the 188-lap event, he reported a heavy vibration to crew chief Bootie Barker and quickly dropped out of the draft, freefalling to the 33rd position. He relayed to Barker that it felt like a driveline or motor issue. However, just four laps later, Mears made a sudden charge to the front of the field, picking up 15 spots in a single lap and taking over the 18th position. While the vibration persisted, Mears did as well, making quick work of the field and landing in the 8th position by lap 15.
Mears ran solidly in the top-10 before lap 29 saw him break into the top-5 and take over the fourth position. His ascent up the scoring tower continued, as he moved the GEICO Chevy into third on lap 37, inching closer to the lead. Mears' afternoon was going as planned until lap 59 when Michael Waltrip went down onto the apron and then shot back up onto the racetrack making contact with Mears and sending the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS into the outside wall. The incident caused heavy damage and sent the Germain Racing team behind the wall for significant repairs.
Despite the carnage, the GEICO pit crew worked efficiently, made quick repairs and returned Mears to the race just 24 laps in arrears. He was scored in the 38th position, but continued to hustle around the 2.66-mile tri-oval in an attempt to recover positions. As the caution flags flew in what seemed like a demolition derby, Mears managed to recover three laps and five positions before crossing the finish line and recording a hard-fought 33rd place finish.
"We come out of this weekend with mixed emotions because the GEICO Chevy was solid and had a lot of speed and we were clearly running strong at the front of the field, but we got clipped by Michael (Waltrip) and ended up with a torn up racecar," Mears said in the garage after the race. "We were fast all weekend and definitely had a shot to win this thing, which is the silver lining, I guess. I was pleased with the crew and how fast they got the car fixed and got me back in the race. We hustled and were able to get some laps back and also pick up five positions. The guys on this GEICO team never quit and I appreciate their commitment and hard work." He continued, "We appreciate GEICO and their support of our sport. Few sponsors do as much as they do and they truly care about NASCAR and its fans. I'm proud to represent them and appreciate the opportunity to drive the No. 13 GEICO Chevy."
Germain Racing will now journey to the Sunflower State.