After last season's inaugural Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway, the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage circled the Southern 500 on their 2016 calendar. Retro paint schemes honoring the legends of the sport, authentic uniforms paying tribute to those who first turned wrenches in the garage and the retired drivers themselves coming to be a part of the special festivities all set the stage for a memorable marquee event under the lights at the track dubbed 'Too Tough to Tame'. Sunday's atmosphere was at all time high as Casey Mears and the No. 13 GEICO Racing team sported the black and gold colors first driven by the late Smokey Yunick.
As Hurricane Hermine worked its way up the east coast and covered South Carolina with strong winds and heavy rain, NASCAR was forced to cancel all track activity on Friday. This resulted in the starting order being set by the owners point standings, placing Mears in the 28th position at the start of the 367-lap race. Clear skies and sunshine came behind the storm allowing beautiful weather to grace the track as the green flag flew shortly after 6PM, Sunday evening.
Just a short seven laps into the 500-mile event, Mears reported of a tight handling condition plaguing the GEICO Chevrolet. Despite Darlington Raceway being known for wreaking havoc on tires and drivers alike, the field stayed caution-free for the first 95 laps, forcing two rounds of green flag pit stops to take place. The Germain Racing pit crew acted quickly and knocked off two low 12-second stops, allowing Mears to gain position on the track.
The "plowing" tightness continued to hinder the performance of the No. 13 machine throughout the entire race, but crew chief Bootie Barker and the GEICO team remained persistent in trying to remedy the issue by using strategic moves on pit road to regain laps when wavearounds were available. With 100 circuits remaining, Mears found himself in the 27th position, knocking on the door for a top-25 finish. The veteran driver was able to stay out of harms way as a slew of cautions slowed the pace down the stretch and when the checkered flag flew, Mears crossed the finish line in the 25th position.
"We were just a little too far off in the beginning which put us behind for the majority of the race tonight," said Mears. "It was extremely special to not only drive this special No. 13 paint scheme but to have Smokey Yunick's family here at the track with us. The throwback weekend at Darlington has quickly become a highlight on the schedule and I'm honored to have had the opportunity to drive this car. GEICO is a tremendous partner and we thank them for allowing us to do this to honor Smokey."
The Sprint Cup Series now heads to Richmond, Virginia for short track racing under the lights. Mears and the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS will hit the track at Richmond International Raceway on Friday, September 9th for opening practice at 10AM ET. Qualifying follows at 5:45PM ET.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 will take place on Saturday, September 10th, with NBC Sports carrying live television coverage beginning at 7:30PM ET. The Motor Racing Network (MRN) and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio channel 90 will carry the live radio broadcast.