Casey Mears: From start-and-parker to serious Daytona 500 contender

Germain Racing's No. 13 has always been solid in plate races, but Casey Mears has turned some heads this week with his performance in both the Sprint Unlimited and Sunday qualifying.

Casey Mears: From start-and-parker to serious Daytona 500 contender
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Ford with crew chief Bootie Barker
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Chevrolet
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Ford
Casey Mears
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Chevrolet
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Chevrolet
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Ford
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Chevrolet
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Chevrolet
Casey Mears, Germain Racing Ford
Race action

Mears missed out on the pole-deciding round of qualifying by just 1/1000th of a second. A day prior, he scored a top five finish with a wounded race car in the Sprint Unlimited. And one year ago, he finished a strong sixth in the Daytona 500.

Start-and-parking "the worst feeling in the world"

After all that, it's hard to think of him and this No. 13 as a start and park entry. Just over three years ago, that's exactly what Germain Racing was forced to do. Mears recalled those days, stating that he had never done such a thing in his life, but it's an experience he doesn't regret.

"It’s the worst feeling in the world."

"I would love for every top guy in this sport to go through the growing pains that we went through as an organization to appreciate where we’re at now," he later added. "It’s really hard to explain how that feels."

After rides with the top tier teams such as Hendrick, Ganassi and Childress earlier in his career, Mears was sent packing with nothing lined up for 2010. "All of a sudden I find myself wandering around figuring out where I’m going to go and I take a start and park opportunity, and I would love every person in this field to have to go through that and know what it feels like. It’s the worst thing you’ve ever done as a competitor. You get some thick skin."

Constant progression

Since then, the single-car operation has blossomed into a top 20 team with strong backing, heading into 2016 with a charter and in the third year of a technical alliance with RCR.

When Motorsport.com asked Mears if this is the best car he's ever had at Speedweeks, “I think so. The good thing is that we know we’ve always had success at these racetracks, but what I really like about our performance so far this year is to have natural speed out of the car.

"When Germain Racing takes an RCR chassis and then build a body on our own back in the fab shop, there are a million different ways that you can mess that up. Our guys really paid attention to the details. We thought we made gains based on the tools that we had and we came back and we're faster, so any time that you can validate the work that you do is what’s encouraging."

Stability for the future is key

With the stability of a charter and a multi-year contract with both driver and sponsor, that leaves Germain Racing to focus solely performance and the further progression of their program.

"It allows you to focus on the proper issues at hand. (Crew chief) Bootie (Barker) and I – and all the guys – look each other in the eyes and work on making our cars better, work on what we have to do to work together better as a team and as an organization. Any time you’re in a bit of flux on what’s going to happen the following year, it’s an easy outlet for someone to start pointing fingers. We know we’re all staying. We really enjoy the relationships that we have, and we think that our team is just getting stronger.

Winning 'The Great American Race'

The 37-year-old has placed as high as second in the 500 (2006) and is currently riding a massive 296-race win-less streak reaching all the way back to 2007 Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte. With the speed shown by the GEICO Chevrolet so far, this dry spell could be coming to an end soon. But is winning this Sunday in the biggest race of them all a realistic possibility?

“I think it’s absolutely realistic ... We definitely have as good a shot as anybody."

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