Top 5 finish for Mears and the Gecko at Daytona
A top-10 finish at February's Daytona 500 had Casey Mears and his GEICO team looking forward to revisiting the famed superspeedway for the Coke Zero 400. While three-wide racing is the usual suspect for frustration at Daytona, weather would wreak havoc and cause the cancelation of the final practice session, along with the second round of qualifying. Later, it would cause the postponement of Saturday night's race. Mears and company would overcome all obstacles and ultimately score a top-5 finish when the race concluded on Sunday.
When Mears and his No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS took to the track for practice on Thursday, they sped quickly around the high-banked facility, landing 11th on the speed charts when the session closed. The Germain Racing team entered qualifying excited at the prospect of winning the Pole. Unfortunately, Mother Nature planned otherwise and after Mears had advanced safely to the second round of qualifying, rain blanketed the speedway, leaving the second round canceled and relegating him to 22nd on the starting grid.
Rain once again involved itself on Saturday night and after torrential downpours left race officials hopeless, the Coke Zero 400 was postponed until Sunday morning at 11 AM (ET).
Mears was ready to go racing and when the green flag finally got the race underway on Sunday, he looked like a caged animal that had been let loose. He quickly moved the No. 13 GEICO Chevy to the front of the field, but when crew chief Bootie Barker indicated rain on the frontstretch on lap five, he cautiously backed out of the draft and moved to the rear in order to avoid any potential calamity. The red flag would be displayed due to rain, sending drivers back to their designated pit stalls.
When the race went back to green at 12:06 PM (ET) on lap 12, Mears restarted from the 35th position. He stayed safely at the rear until lap 50, when he quickly jumped the GEICO Chevy to 12th. He continued charging through the field at an alarming pace, moving into the top-5 on lap 64. On lap 84, Barker ordered Mears to pit road for a scheduled green flag pit stop. The GEICO crew promptly provided him with four fresh Goodyear tires and a full tank of Sunoco fuel before returning him to the racing surface. While Mears surrendered his position at the front to pit under green, it served as little affect, as he returned to the top-5 in a stunning four laps. The No. 13 GEICO Chevy was seen on the track's SprintVision television screens passing cars at-will, which led to television and radio announcers alike taking note of Mears' speed.
Mears experienced some nervous moments on lap 98 when cars began crashing just behind him in his rearview mirror. The incident involved 26 cars, including Kyle Busch who ended up on his roof. The event's second red flag was displayed immediately, as mangled racecars covered the racetrack. Mears restarted sixth when the race went back to green and immediately moved into the fourth position. The GEICO machine would remain in the top-5 until the rain set in again on lap 108, causing the race's third and final red flag. With just 52 laps left in the advertised distance, NASCAR called the race and Mears was credited with a fourth place finish, earning the team's first top-5 of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. More importantly, this marks the third restrictor-plate race of the year that the GEICO team has completed without incident, something of which very few teams can lay claim. After a 10th place result at the Daytona 500, 14th at Talladega and now a fourth at the Coke Zero 400, Mears and Germain Racing have an average finish of ninth this season at restrictor-plate tracks, which places them among the top teams in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing.
"It was a great day for Germain Racing, our No. 13 GEICO Chevy was really strong. We definitely had a shot at this thing, which leaves us frustrated that we didn't get to complete the final 52 laps, but at the same time we earned the finish and raced at the front all day, so we're happy about finishing fourth," a rain-soaked Mears said after the race. "These guys work really hard on our restrictor-plate program, giving us a chance to win every time we show up here, but today we were right there, right where we wanted to be. I'm happy for everyone on the team, the road crew and our guys back at the shop that work so hard when we're at the track." He added, "I appreciate everything our team owner Bob Germain and GEICO has done for our program, as well as KMC Wheels, Castrol, Caymus and all of our other sponsors. We've had a few strong races in a row, so we hope to continue the run we've been on when we get to Loudon next week."
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