As the summer picks up, so has Casey Mears and his GEICO team. Coming off of a strong run in Sonoma where Mears finished 13th and earned the Sherwin-Williams Fast Lap of the Race award, the team was aiming for success at Kentucky Speedway. Germain Racing has worked hard to improve their performance on intermediate tracks and Kentucky would aid in the cause.
While first practice caused concern when the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS was 31st on the board, crew chief Bootie Barker and the Germain Racing crew made changes that saw Mears catapult up the speed chart to 17th in Happy Hour. He would later qualify 26th - just behind close friend Jimmie Johnson who was 25th - when he navigated the 1.5-mile oval in 29.440-seconds, at a speed of 183.424 miles per hour.
Rain blanketed the Sparta area on race day, but despite heavy downpours, the green flag waved at its scheduled time. When the Quaker State 400 got underway, Mears started 26th and made his way swiftly through the field, hustling the No. 13 GEICO Chevy into the top 20 by lap six. Visibly fast, Mears was strong throughout the first green flag run.
Later in the race, the GEICO machine became irritable and Mears soon found himself at odds with an ill-handling racecar. Frustrated, he radioed in: "It doesn't want to roll in the center, it's just tight. The front-end, where it wasn't turning, is worse. The car is worse, it won't turn at all now." He began a free-fall down the scoring tower, bottoming out in the 29th position and losing a lap to the leader. It wasn't until Mears brought his No. 13 GEICO Chevy to the attention of his pit crew during the lap 125 caution that they realized he had a slow air leak in the right rear tire. This issue caused the handling of the car to get increasingly more challenging as the run wore on, but with it diagnosed, they made necessary changes and returned Mears to the racing surface ready to do battle. He quickly began making up ground and moved into the lucky dog position, allowing him to return to the lead lap when the yellow flag waved on lap 177.
Mears was in the 18th position and charging hard on lap 222. With 35 laps to go, he radioed in that he felt like he had a tire going down, it felt like something was dragging. He went on to say that it felt like a shock came loose, as the car was bouncing all over the place. Mears was correct; the rear shock mount bar had broken, leaving him with no rear shocks for the final 30 laps of the race. By lap 251, Mears said the No.13 GEICO Chevy SS felt totally out of control. Barker reassured him, "You're doing a heck of a job, Casey." Spotter, Ron Lewis, excitedly cheered his driver along through the final 16 laps, keeping him abreast of any closing traffic. Despite piloting a car with no rear shocks, his speed matched that of the leaders for nearly all of the final 20 laps. Mears settled in and remained silent on the team's radio frequency focusing only on taming a car that shared a different perspective. A persistent Mears crossed the finish line in the 20th position, handing the GEICO Racing team their ninth top 20 finish of the 2014 season.
A post-race Tweet from crew member Bryan Kincheloe summed up Mears' skill in even finishing the race: "Shout out to @CJmearsgang (Casey Mears) for driving the wheels off it with no rear shocks. That's not easy kids."
"We started off really strong and the GEICO Chevy was fast from the start of the race. It was dialed in and I had a lot of speed," Mears said. "It was a little confusing when the car's handling turned so bad, but it made sense when we realized we had a right rear tire with a slow leak. The GEICO crew got the car fixed up and we went back out there and did some racing and got a good finish. The final 30 or 35 laps were tough trying to maintain control of the car with no rear shocks. I almost lost it a couple of times, but was able to keep it under control. I'm really proud of these guys. We've had a few things happen beyond our control the last couple of weeks, but we didn't quit and we've been able to finish well." He continued, "We're looking forward to getting to Daytona next week. The guys on this GEICO team work really hard on our restrictor-plate program, so I know we'll have a good car when we unload on Thursday."
Mears and the GEICO team will now set their sights on Daytona, where they departed the first race of the season with a top 10 finish.