Debris damage doesn't deter Mears, scores a top 25 at Charlotte
When practice kicked off on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Casey Mears and his Germain Racing team ended up 33rd in the opening practice session. Fortunately, things turned around when the camo-clad No. 13 GEICO Military Chevrolet SS took to the track for practice on Saturday, as they ended up 16th and 25th in the respective sessions. Of greater significance, Mears turned in the sixth best ten-lap average in the morning before later recording the eighth fastest ten-lap average in final practice, indicating the car showed consistency over a longer period of time.
After qualifying 34th for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, Casey Mears and the GEICO Racing team were banking on the changing track conditions to play in their favor in allowing them to race to the front. The fact that the event is the longest race on the circuit at 600-miles - and that it begins in sunny conditions and finishes under the lights - guarantees that nothing is guaranteed.
The 2014 Coca-Cola 600 got underway at 6:23pm EDT and within a few laps, Mears reported that his GEICO Chevy was "tight and stepping out" over the turn four bumps that the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Charlotte has become known for.
With no cautions during the first fuel run, pit stops began under green and Mears came to pit road for the first time at lap 47 for four tires, fuel and adjustments to remedy the tight condition. Not long after the stop, however, Mears' feedback leaned towards the car being too "loose" but was still making progress, now being posted in the 28th position.
The next green-flag stop came at lap 110 and the crew discovered a hole in the grill, apparently caused by a piece of debris. Along with the usual four tires and fuel, the team patched the hole and returned Mears to competition. Soon after, his reports took a turn for the worse. Mears and the crew weren't sure if it was an "off" set of tires, or the grill damage, but the GEICO Chevy was not the same car.
As night fell and laps wore on in the event, the GEICO team soldiered on and continued to evaluate feedback and make adjustments accordingly.
Again, long green-flag runs dominated throughout the mid portions of the race which left Mears and the GEICO team vulnerable to being lapped, but at the same time, with only some 10-15 cars on the lead lap at any given time, the team was far from being out of contention for a solid finish.
Throughout the race, the team persevered, as Mears explained the car's handling issues, the crew followed the instructions of crew chief, Bootie Barker, in trying to correct the situation and secure a strong finish. As the checkered flag closed out 400-laps of racing in the late night hours in Charlotte, Mears brought the GEICO Chevy home in the 24th position, accounting for the team's eighth top-25 finish of the 2014 season.
"We learned a lot tonight and I just want to thank everyone on this GEICO team for all of their hard work this weekend," Mears said. "We enjoyed running the GEICO Military paint scheme during the May races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. What we do at the track each week pales in comparison to the sacrifices that have been made by our service members. This weekend is all about those who have fought for our country and offered the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom."
Mears and the Germain Racing team will move on to Dover, DE, where they will play in the Gecko's backyard, as GEICO is located a short 90-minute drive from the Monster Mile.
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