Mears perseverance nets Top 25 finish in Michigan's Irish Hills
On a bright and sunny Father's Day in Brooklyn, MI, Casey Mears stood at the car with his father, Roger Mears, for a few photos during pre-race. Mears then held his own children for pre-race prayer and set off to race in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Throughout the weekend's three practice sessions and Friday's qualifying session, the Germain Racing crew was focused on making the No. 13 GEICO Chevy SS adjustable so the team could tighten up the car's chassis as the race progressed. Loose was the predicted condition that most drivers would complain of, and that held true.
Starting from the 31st position, Mears spent the early laps of the race more concerned with avoiding crash contact than wondering how the GEICO Chevy was handling. As the field attempted to complete the first lap of competition under the green flag, the No. 55 car of Brian Vickers slid up into the wall just in front of Mears, bringing out the event's caution flag of the day.
"That's one. If history repeats itself, get ready, because there will probably be two more crashes like that before we can get to racing today," Crew chief Bootie Barker said to Mears over the team radio.
As Barker predicted, after six caution laps, there was another failed attempt to restart the racing action at Michigan. The green fla]g turned the field loose on lap seven, but the yellow flag quickly reappeared on lap eight as Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex, Jr, were involved in a melee that once again slowed the field.
"There's probably one more," said Barker over the radio. As it turns out, that one more was nearly the GEICO Chevy. Mears masterfully avoided causing the next caution on the restart as several cars just ahead of him did not accelerate when the green flag waved. In the shuffle to recover from avoiding the wreck, Mears slid back several spots to his original starting place of 31st.
When pit stops began, Mears' crew had a plan for the car. They provided him with four tires, fuel and two rounds of wedge when they called him in at lap 37. When Mears rejoined the field, he began experiencing a vibration. Fortunately, it served as little consequence, as the GEICO Chevy began turning lap times comparable with cars in the top 10. The car was still slightly loose, so the crew made another adjustment during a subsequent pit stop.
Mears pushed the GEICO Chevy toward the front. By halfway, he was knocking on the door of the top-20. The crew gave him a two-tire pit stop under caution at lap 104. These changes did not work well for the car, and the team didn't need to wait long before they had an opportunity to re-adjust the chassis.
The field was taking the green flag following the fifth caution of the race when the No. 66 car of Brett Moffitt got loose and slid up into the door of the GEICO Chevy. The damage was cosmetic, but the Germain Racing crew took no chances. Mears was called to pit road for four fresh tires and fuel, and to add half of a spring rubber to the left rear of the car. He returned to the track in the 31st position on lap 116.
Despite the setback, Mears continued to navigate his way through the field and ultimately crossed the finish line in the 24th position, giving Germain Racing their 11th top 25 effort of the season. Aside from recording a solid finish, the GEICO team came away from the 400-mile event with much needed data that will most assuredly come in handy when the Sprint Cup Series returns to Michigan in August.
"It was good to have the GEICO Chevy be so fast at different points in the race today. We worked through a number of chassis adjustments and some went the way we hoped and some didn't. The pit crew had great stops today and we are all ready to get to Sonoma and see what kind of weekend we can have on the road course," said Mears. He added, "The good thing is that we keep finishing races and finishing strong. It says a lot about our team when you think about what it takes to finish these races. We've been doing that consistently, so the results will come."
Looking ahead Mears has his sights set on Sonoma Raceway. He has a best result of fifth and has never failed to finish in his ten Sprint Cup Series races at the California road course. The GEICO team will be bringing with them a brand-new, tested, road course race car.
"There's a lot of 'going home' feeling that comes with racing in California, and that we are heading to a road course makes it that much better. I enjoy racing on the road courses and this new GEICO Chevy we are bringing to the track - I think everyone on the Germain Racing team is excited about it. The car is fast and we are looking forward to having some fun with it at Sonoma," said Mears.
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