This weekend saw Casey Mears and his GEICO team visit the Poconos for the second time in two months. One of NASCAR’s original racetracks, the Tricky Triangle sits tucked away quietly in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.
A questionable weather forecast left many wondering if Saturday’s scheduled NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practices would be canceled, and made Friday’s opening session even more critical. The Germain Racing team struggled early and was relegated to 34th on the final chart when the first practice ended. Later in the day, he qualified 29th for Sunday’s GOBOWLING.COM 400. Rain set in on Saturday and blanketed the Long Pond area causing the cancelation of both practices, sending Mears and company into Sunday’s race nearly blind.
Race day weather betrayed that of Saturday and provided a perfect backdrop for racing. When Mears and his GEICO car arrived on pit road, the sun was bright and the temperature hovered around 70, with the track temperature a significant 12-degrees cooler than practice on Friday.
Starting 29th, Mears had work to do and he got right to it when the action heated up in turn one on the opening lap of the race. Juan Pablo Montoya, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Matt Kenseth all found themselves collected before they could turn a single lap, bringing out the event’s first caution flag no sooner than the green flag stopped waving. Mears had picked up four positions and sat in the 25th position when the race returned to green four laps later.
When the second caution slowed the field on lap 14, crew chief Bootie Barker ordered Mears and his #13 GEICO Ford Fusion to stay put and not visit pit road. A fuel strategy was in play and it paid dividends throughout the afternoon. Mears had worked his way up as high as sixth, but ran solidly in the top 15 and top 20 for the bulk of the day. The GEICO driver was afforded a bit of good fortune on lap 53. Mears was riding in the 10th position when the caution flag came out just moments before he was to travel down pit road for a scheduled green flag pit stop, saving him from going a lap down to the field had the timing been a few seconds different.
Another close call occurred on lap 110 when dust and smoke filled Mears’ front windshield when the cars of Danica Patrick, Jeff Burton, Travis Kvapil and Paul Menard got together immediately in front of the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion. Mears quickly ducked to the inside, avoiding the incident by the narrowest of margins. If the caution flag was out, then Mears was conserving fuel. Spotter Ron Lewis would almost immediately bark out to his driver to save fuel each time the yellow flag began waving. Mears drew laughter from the Germain Racing pit stall when, under the lap 110 caution, he immediately queried his team, “Want me to save fuel here?”
As the race began to wind down, Mears commented to his crew that the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion had improved significantly from practice on Friday and that he was in a position to race his fellow competitors that lie just ahead of him. The track tightened up later on, but he continued to race his way to the front. He was sitting in the 13th position when he made his final scheduled green flag pit stop of the day on lap 132. He took on four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment before settling in for a race to the checkered flag. Unfortunately, with just ten laps remaining, Mears reported a heavy vibration in the GEICO Ford and expressed heavy concern. A caution flag with just four laps to go in the race allowed him to bring the Ford Fusion to the attention of his pit crew. They quickly removed four tires, but found nothing wrong. The car continued to be irritable as Mears departed pit road. He indicated that he could feel the vibration in the gear shifter, which could be reflective of a significant problem. Mears was instructed to return to the race, take it easy and just complete the event without incident. While he was chasing a top 15 finish, he would settle for 24th and a racecar that remained in one piece and no chance of a DNF. Mears’s strong day accounts for Germain Racing’s 13th top 25 finish of the 2013 season.
“The weekend started out a little rough, but the guys on this GEICO team did a great job of getting the car to come around during the race,” Mears said. “The car felt good today and we had a strong run, so even though the vibration there at the end set us back, we still had a solid day and leave feeling positive. Watkins Glen should be a lot of fun next week, so we’re excited about getting there.”
Next week will find Mears and his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series counterparts making both left and right hand turns, as they embark on their second road course race of the season in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Mears finished 16th at Sonoma on June 23rd, the series’ first road course race of the year.
Mears and the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion will hit the track at Watkins Glen International for the opening practice session on Friday, August 9th, at 12:00 PM (EDT). Final practice will be at 4 PM (ET), while qualifying will follow a day later on Saturday, August 10th, at 11:40 AM (EDT).
The Cheez-It 355 at the Glen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is on Sunday, August 11th, and it will be televised live on ESPN beginning at 1:00 PM (EDT). The Motor Racing Network (MRN) will carry the live radio broadcast.
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