DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— Despite not having a ride in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Casey Mears will join GIECO and Biagi-Denbeste Racing for a part-time, 12-race, deal in the Xfinity Series.

Mears will pilot the No. 98 GEICO Military Ford Mustang that honors and pays tribute to our nation’s military and service members.

“I’m thankful for GEICO’s continued support and I’m happy we were able to get this deal put together with Biagi-DenBeste Racing,” Mears said. “Fred Biagi and Bill and Lori DenBeste are great people and I’ve always respected them and how committed they’ve been to NASCAR and building their team over the years. I’m honored to be able to drive the #98 GEICO Military Ford and pay tribute to our military and their families. GEICO does a terrific job of supporting the military and I appreciate the opportunity to play a small role in honoring our service members.”

This deal reunites GEICO and the Biagi-Denbeste organization, a deal that ran from 2002 to 2006. During that time, the team won the Winn-Dixie 250 at Daytona International Speedway in 2004.

“We are excited to expand our footprint in the NASCAR community with our sponsorship of Casey Mears and Biagi-DenBeste Racing in the Xfinity Series,” said GEICO vice president of marketing, Ted Ward. “We enjoyed our relationship with the team in years past and are happy that Casey will continue to be part of the GEICO family. This program is a nice complement to our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series sponsorship of Germain Racing and will help broaden our presence during race weekends. The military is an important component of our business and we are looking forward to honoring our service members with the #98 GEICO Military Ford.”

Mears has 14 years of experience in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, including one win, 13 top-fives, 51 top-10’s, and three poles. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Mears has nine years of part-time experience in the series including one win, 16 top-fives, 32 top-10’s, and four poles.

Biagi-Denbeste Racing scored one win in the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series season at Daytona International Speedway in the Subway Firecracker 250.

NASCAR knew that rain was in the forecast for the entire weekend before cars got on track for opening Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday. The session started 19 minutes behind the scheduled time due to fog. 

Fog remained a factor for what turned into be just a 20 minute practice when rain came and halted cars from working on qualifying setup. 28 cars participated in practice, so if qualifying is rained out in the afternoon the starting lineup will be set by owner standings. 

Carl Edwards posted the fastest single lap speed at 179.802 mph, which was over one mph faster than Kevin Harvick, who recorded the second fastest lap. If rain cancels qualifying, the No. 4 Chevrolet would start from the pole on Sunday. 

Last year's pole-sitter for this event, Kurt Busch was third on the leader board at 178.649 mph. Paul Menard was fourth at 178.250 mph and defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. 

Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Joey Logano, Greg Bffle and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10. 

Three drivers were tied for most laps ran in the practice session at seven. Cup Series rookie Chris Buescher led the way in that category at 23rd. Michael Annett and Brian Scott also completed seven laps and were the two slowest cars on one lap speed. 

Notable drivers who didn't complete a lap were August winner, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon. 

Qualifying is set to role at 4:15 p.m. ET if rain moves out of the Pocono Mountains.

With just under 10 minutes remaining in Sprint Cup Series opening practice at Bristol, Denny Hamlin laid down a lap at 128.666 mph, shooting him to the top of the speed chart.

At a track that is a half-mile in length, Hamlin’s time lap time was 14.913 seconds. The top four all posted laps under 15 seconds as practice dwindled to a close.  

In the last five races at Bristol, the No. 11 car has sat on the pole three times, including the night race last August, the last time NASCAR visited the world’s fastest half-mile.

After dominating last week in Texas, Martin Truex, Jr. was second fasest on the leader board at 128.399 mph, .031 seconds behind Hamlin.

Two-time Bristol winner, Brad Keselowski was third on the chart at 128.374. Jimmie Johnson posted a lap at 128.176 mph. and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five at 127.767 mph.

With qualifying being so important at Bristol, the first 17 cars were within two-tenths of a second of the top time. Notable drivers under that mark was August winner Joey Logano in 19th and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. who has two career top five finishes at this track in 26th.

Casey Mears was the fastest of the drivers who made a 10 lap run as well as running 43 laps, the most of all drivers in the hour-and-a-half session.

Qualifying will get underway at 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Matt Kenseth is the defending pole-sitter and winner of the spring race in Bristol.

After having an unusual Friday, Joe Gibbs Racing picked up the speed in race trim and swept both rounds of practice in Las Vegas led by Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.

Practice One:

In the morning practice that began at 8:30 a.m. Carl Edwards paced the field in a backup car at 191.564 mph. The No. 19 Toyota had to go to a backup car after following a crash in round two of qualifying on Friday. In the first round he was fourth fastest, but the team worked until the late hours on Friday evening to prepare the new car.

After qualifying fifth, Austin Dillon was second fast on one lap speed. The No. 3 car also was among the fastest on 10-lap speeds.

Casey Mears finished the session in third, .128 seconds behind Edwards. Kasey Kahne finished with the fourth best lap and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.

Polesitter Kurt Busch was the lowest on the speed chart that he had been all weekend at 10th, while his teammate and defending winner of this race Kevin Harvick was mired down in 22nd.

Struggling all weekend long has been Kyle Busch, who posted the 27th time. Joey Logano was a disappointing 30th on the board following the first session, though qualifying outside of the front row for Sunday’s 400-mile event.

Practice Two:

Kenseth laid down a lap early on in the session that would remain atop the board for the entirety of the session. At 189.460 mph, the No. 20 Toyota laid down a lap that would be more similar to race conditions.

Edwards was able to finish out “Happy Hour” second quick. He self-admittedly was happy that the team is using the backup car because of the speed that it has shown throughout the first two practices.

Busch was just over a tenth of a second behind Kenseth in third. The Las Vegas native is looking for his first career win at his hometown track on Sunday.

Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Ryan Newman finished out the top five. The No. 27 car ran 54 laps, the most of all teams as he is looking to take advantage of running at one of his best tracks this weekend.

Dillon had the 11th overall speed, but was the fastest on the 10 consecutive lap average. He was so happy with his car that they covered the car up with 20 minutes remaining in practice.  

Busch and Logano were able to get their cars to a respectable speed of 14th and 17th. Just like the morning practice Harvick finished 22nd on the chart.

The third race of the Sprint Cup season will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday where one team will look to solidify itself in the Chase.

The Can-Am Duels at Daytona did not disappoint this year. Throughout the majority of both races, there was action packed racing, two and even three-wide at some points. Like always, there were some cars that stood out and others that finished better than what they ran. That’s restrictor plate racing.

Duel One:

In the opening Duel race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. proved that he will have one of the cars to beat on Sunday in the 58th Annual Daytona 500.

It didn’t take long for the restrictor plate veteran to prove that he had the best car in the first Can-Am Duel. It took him just two laps to take the top spot away from Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott. He held the lead until his pit stop until Lap 40.

The No. 88 car dominated the first Duel as he led 43 of the races 60 laps, but had to overcome adversity in the late stages. With just a handful of laps to go, Earnhardt was shuffled back to sixth while Denny Hamlin as on point.

With just over one lap to go, Earnhardt had to hold off a charging Joey Logano will help from Ryan Blaney from the Wood Brothers, an affiliate of Team Penske. Even with the two drivers pairing up they were unable to pass the No. 88 team.

In his post-race press conference Earnhardt eluded to his car as special and knowing that he has one of the cars to beat.

“That was crazy,” Earnhardt said on the race. “I was so nervous today about tearing the car up because I know how good it is versus what we have. What we have is a capable car in the trailer, but this thing is special. So I’m really excited.”

The defending Daytona 500 winner, Logano, finished second after getting shuffled back after his green flag pit stop. The No. 22 car was aggressive and made dicey moves in-and-out of traffic, much like his teammate Brad Keselowski who finished in a disappointing 13th.

Blaney is headlining into his second career Daytona 500, and as a rookie he stated his case as to why teams should work with him in the actual race. Last season the No. 21 car had one top-five finish coming at Talladega, the other plate track.

“We had a really fast racecar,” Blaney said. “We had a couple of problems early in the race which got us a lap down. Luckily we got a caution at the right point that got us on the lead lap so we could go racing for it.”

One lap prior to the halfway point, Blaney had a loose left-rear tire that the team accidently left loose prior to the 150-mile event. Evidently, the team overcame the bad luck and got a top-five finish.

Kevin Harvick finished fourth after starting in the rear and had a real shot the win while running second with four laps to go. The Sprint Unlimited winner Hamlin rounded out the top five and led 13 laps in the process.

With Blaney finishing in third and a 13th-place finish Michael McDowell came out on top in the race within the race, the race just to make the Daytona 500. On Lap 42, Cole Whitt had a big run on the No. 95 car that when he went to make a move to pass McDowell he overcorrected and spun out, ending his chance at competing in the Great American Race.

The other driver that McDowell had to beat was Josh Wise and he finished in 17th.

“It’s definitely a big thing for our team, Circle Sport-Levin Family Racing, we’re going to have two cars in the Daytona 500 especially for a small team” McDowell said on making the Daytona 500. “To really start out the year well, it’s very important. This is such a huge race.”

Duel Two:

The latter of the two 150-mile races was very tame until the last couple of laps. As Kyle Busch went on to dominate the event, a multi-car pileup on the last lap cost many of top drivers’ valuable starting positions for the Daytona 500.

It all started to go downhill with two laps to go when Casey Mears was running the second position and ran out of gas. The No. 13 car had just been placed into the second position and then ran out of gas, while trying to make a move on Busch.

As the lead pack of 11 cars darted in to Turn 1 on the last lap, Jamie McMurray made a move to try and win the race when he looked to the inside of the No. 18 car. While coming back up the track he clipped the front end of Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet, causing a five car crash, including Matt Kenseth who was scheduled to start on the outside of Row 1 on Sunday.

Also getting in the crash were A.J. Allmendinger, Danica Patrick and Martin Truex Jr.

With Kenseth likely going to a backup car, it will move Busch to the outside of the front row, alongside 20-year-old rookie Chase Elliott.

“I think I get to start on the front row,” Busch said. “I didn’t win this race to qualify myself for the fourth starting position, but with our teammate having trouble there at the end of the race, they’ll have to go a backup car, it looks. Well get the chance to start on the front row. That’s pretty cool.”

The accident looked to be the cause of all drivers going for it and getting the best starting position that they could. However, the end result was that three of the 500 favorites will now start in the rear.

“I was behind it to see it so I couldn’t really tell why the No. 48 went up the racetrack,” Kenseth said. “I was actually just in the process to get out of there and go to the back. I thought we had the best car and we led a lot of laps.”

Kenseth mentioned that this will be the No. 20 team’s third car of Speedweeks as he also crashed in the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday.

In this Duel it was Robert Richardson, Jr. who was able to fall back on his qualifying speed from last Sunday as his teammate Matt DiBenedetto finished the highest out of the cars that needed to race their way in. David Gilliland and Reed Sorenson will miss the 500-mile spectacle.

 “Two weeks ago when I got the call to run this race, I was mowing the hay pastures,” Richardson said. “I’m just very blessed to be here.”

There are three practice sessions for teams to tune up their primary or backup cars to try and win the biggest race in motorsports. The team that is able to adapt to the conditions of the race and keep up with the pace being set will find themselves the winner of the Daytona 500.

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