The performance of Germain Racing has increased over the past two seasons by having an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. The alliance has allowed the small organization to up its game, and go from essentially a start-and-park team to a team that each week is battling for top-20 finishes.
Casey Mears is entering his seventh season with Germain Racing, five in which have been full-time. In 2010, the team qualified for just 30 races, 12 of them slotted the California native behind the wheel.
Back when Germain Racing decided to Sprint Cup Series racing, it picked Max Papis to be the full-time driver with sponsorship from GEICO. Six years later, GEICO is still around and supporting the team in every race, for a club that runs outside of the top 10.
It isn’t for a lack of trying. Aligning themselves with RCR has brought the spirit within the team to new heights. In 2015, Mears experienced his best season with the current team.
His top 10 total went down from three to one in 2015 compared to 2014, but the consistency was there more this season than in previous seasons. With an average finish of 23.1, slightly up from 2014, his team has brought optimism into the new season.
He finished 23rd in the championship standings, but hovered around the 20th position all season long. His lone top 10 came in the Daytona 500 where the No. 13 car crossed the checkered flag in the sixth position, giving them a heads up on larger teams that finished poorly in the 500, such as Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski, all whom finished 35th or worse.
In the first month and a half of the season, Mears finished in the top 20 all but two times, giving him the best start with Germain Racing in his tenure. Following Martinsville, he had four straight finished of 25th or worse, costing him valuable points.
One thing that the team improved was qualifying. For the season, the No. 13 had an average starting position of 23.9, including an eighth-place effort at Sonoma, a place that Mears typically runs well at. The speed was there to be competitive, and he looks forward to even better results in 2016.
“Our morale is really high right now,” Mears told Speedway Digest. “It’s been a long time coming for our program. The last five years now it’s been a huge growth from being essentially a start-and-park program, to running half of the races, to now I think this is our third full season. Now being with RCR again for another year, I feel like we are really starting to understand a lot of the details that we need to know and understand to really go out and compete.”
RCR hasn’t won a race since the fall of 2013 when Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix. However, it did produce one of the championship four contenders in 2014 with the No. 31 team and Newman. Over the course of last season RCR continued to grow faster, especially with Austin Dillon.
The No. 3 team may not have got the results that they were looking for, but Dillon became a top-10 to top-15 regular, including a career best of fourth at Michigan in August. Paul Menard made the Chase for the first time, and an alliance with Furniture Row Racing propelled Martin Truex, Jr. to the championship race in Homestead.
Speed wise, RCR is giving high quality equipment to its competition. Being that 2016 will be the third year working with Germain Racing, it is assumed that the No. 13 car will be the best it has been to date.
“A huge goal for us is to break the top 20 in points,” Mears said. “I honestly feel like last year, every single year there’s a handful of races that you can always look back on and go ‘man if we would have just done this’ or something would happen, but in reality we actually had several things happen to us last year that just don’t typically happen.”
Crew chief Bootie Barker and he have worked together for the better part of the past five and a half years. Barker is one of the most respected crew chiefs that sits atop the pit box on a weekly basis. The chemistry has evolved into a close friendship off the racetrack and has proven to work on the track.
This isn’t quite a make or break season for Mears as he is signed with Germain Racing through the 2018 season. But the pressure to perform is always on a race team and for him personally he wants to win, but more importantly have a shot at the championship, something that’s never happened in his career.
In his 13-year career, Mears has had some bright moments that stick out including winning the pole for the Brickyard 400 in 2004. He’s raced for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Red Bull Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Keyed-Up Motorsports and now Germain Racing, but has just one fuel mileage win to show for it in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600.
In recent memory Mears hasn’t had the ability to run toward the front, but heading into 2016, his career might be the most stable that it has ever been.
“I feel like, even last year, if we can just put a solid season together and not had issues we could have probably finished 18th in points,” he said. “I see us if we get everything out that we have and make the right decisions we’re knocking on the door of possibly being in the Chase.”
Making the Chase would be a huge step in the right direction for the small race team that employs less than 40 people. Unloading off of the hauler with something to work with will allow for a better opportunity for Mears and Barker. They can focus on what they have and improve the setup instead of struggling to find the right balance all weekend long.
He’s back. It’s number four the No. 88. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has won the first of two Budweiser Duel 150 qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway.
Holding off a hard charging Joey Logano, Earnhardt was able to win the Duel to start on the inside of the second row for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Pole sitter Jeff Gordon finished second after running in the top five for the majority of the race, and was able to hold off Logano coming off Turn 4 for the final time.
"I'm so glad to be able to get through the Duel in one piece because I know how good this race car is," Earnhardt said. "We have a couple more practices to go through and try to stay out of trouble during those and put this thing on the grid."
Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 32 laps, fell to the back of the pack with less than 10 laps to go. During the final caution with five laps remaining in the race, the No. 20 car pitted, but finished 17th.
After being on the edge of making the Daytona 500, Ty Dillon will run his first Daytona 500. Finishing 16th, the grandson of Richard Childress was able to get in based on Gordon not needing a spot in the race since he locked in during qualifying day.
Along with Dillon, Landon Cassill, Cole Whitt, Michael McDowell, JJ Yeley and Michael Annett were able to race their way into the Daytona 500. With the exception of Dillon, each of those drivers were inside of the top 15, which automatically gives them a starting position in the “Great American Race.”
Missing the Daytona 500 are RAB Racing’s Justin Marks, along with The Motorsports Group’s Ron Hornaday, Jr.
Casey Mears blew an engine on Lap 15 while running inside of the top 10. Mears will have to wait until the second Duel is over to find out if he will make the Daytona 500. He was outside of the top 25 in qualifying, but his spot in owner points could prevail to put him in the race.
AJ Allmendinger was inside of the top five at one point during the first Duel on Thursday evening. The No. 47 car was involved in an incident with BK Racing driver Johnny Sauter, and both of them finished outside of the top 20. Allmendinger will make the field based on owner points. Meanwhile, Sauter’s No. 83 car was 13th in qualifying, which means he will be able to fall back on his time.
2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne was running 18th when he got loose and hit the wall entering Turn 3. However, with the owner points from the No. 99 car, Bayne is locked into the Daytona 500.
Using the new pit road technology, four teams were penalized during the 150-mile race.