In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, it's more than just logging laps, aiming for the number one spot on race day, or chasing after glory in 36 events stretched across 10 months. It's about team chemistry, improving results, never resting on one's laurels, and most of all, to be the very best at all times. For Casey Mears and his No. 13 GEICO Chevy team from Germain Racing, they realize it's an uphill battle that consists of short term goals to execute for big picture success.
Hailing from Bakersfield, CA, Mears is in the midst of his 12th season of Cup action, having scored a win in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and four pole awards (Pocono, Indianapolis, Chicagoland, and Bristol). Although Mears and his No. 13 team have logged a top-five and a pair of top-10's after 19 races, as documented in this exclusive one-on-one interview from the race weekend at Loudon, NH, he acknowledged that there's still much to be gained down the stretch of the season. Candid but resolute, even with some struggles during opening practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Friday, he praised his team, led by crew chief Robert "Bootie" Barker and the shop personnel.
Those opportunities to improve are certainly there for Mears and the Germain Racing team, where they could possibly find themselves doing unorthodox strategies in the name of track position and wins to possibly get into the Chase Grid. For now, it's about improvement, consistency, speed, and building on the strong chemistry that's quite prevalent with this hardy crew, even in the face of adversity. Prior to qualifying for the Camping World RV Sales 301, I caught up with Mears to talk about his season, career, Chase odds, and how he'd feel if he and his team scored a win down the stretch.
Rob Tiongson : It’s the second half of the season, where you’re able to evaluate your team’s performance thus far. What are some of the things that you like this season so far?
Casey Mears : The biggest thing is that we’ve progressed a lot over the last year. Every year, we continue to grow and get better. This is our second full season. Switching everything over to Chevrolet and getting the RCR relationship has been a blessing. At the same time, it’s presented a lot of new challenges and stuff that we need to know and understand. It’s been going really well.
We haven’t really seen a lot of the results that we expect out of ourselves but we’ve progressed a lot over the last season. Our performances have been a lot better but this weekend has been a big struggle. In Friday practice, we had a lot of things not go our way. For the most part, I’m real happy with how we’ve progressed as a team and organization.
RT : Would you say that last weekend at Daytona was a nice confidence booster for your team, especially with a top-five finish there?
CM : It’s a little bit odd because we expect to run well at those places. We’ve always had some pretty good cars at the superspeedways. That’s the best Cup finish that we’ve ever had in Germain, which is great and definitely, everyone’s happy about it. I’m glad that we had a good, solid day. At the same time, we kind of expect that out of ourselves. It’s coming back to places like this that are the more difficult ones for us. That’s where we gotta work harder at.
RT : What are some of the key opportunities that you and your team are working on for the second half of the season?
CM : Going back to Talladega and Watkins Glen, the road courses have been strong for us and at the superspeedways, we seem to do well. I’m looking forward to going back to Martinsville. The biggest thing is that we’re working really hard on trying to qualify better. If we can qualify better and start these races up a little further, it’d definitely us out. In that first run, if you get a lap down early, it gets pretty difficult to get that back. We’re focused on trying to qualify better and just chip away at all the little things that race teams work on.
We’re in a position where maybe we could do something a bit risky. Obviously, if you can get in the Chase, it dramatically changes your approach on what you can do on a weekly basis once you know you’re in. I can see us definitely making risky moves like staying out or taking two tires to capitalize on track position.
RT : We’ve seen a lot of changes this season with the aero package, taller rear spoilers, and group qualifying. Compared to 11 years ago when you were a Cup rookie, would you say that it’s improved or hurt Cup racing?
CM : It’s hard to say. There’s so many things that are different from when I first started. From the approach of the cars to performance and safety, everything’s a lot different. Things are a lot more in a tighter box. A lot of the cars are closer than they ever have been. Still, the guys with the big budget have the extra 10th or two on you, but I feel like it’s definitely changed the way the cars race.
Dirty air’s been a bigger issue but at the same time, the ride-height rule has been really good with getting the cars down. It’s been something else that we’ve had to get used to as far as being on the plate and getting off the plate, going through tech heights like we used to, and then reverse engineer the cars in a way.
RT : How much does the driver have an impact as this sport has shifted with more of an emphasis on engineering compared to 2004?
CM : I think the driver has a lot to do with it still with the decisions that you make out on the track. As far as getting the speed and communication between the crew chief and engineers, it’s more important than ever. I think giving good valuable information to help them make good decisions is very important.
I think what makes the difference between a good driver and a great driver are the guys that have that good relationship with their crew chief who can take that bad car and sort through it by making it good before the weekend is out. If the crew chief and team are really on top of it, you’ll start a lot closer. It’s on those bad days where you have to sort through adversity rather quickly that makes the difference between a good driver and a great driver.
RT : As you work with your crew chief Bootie Barker, how have you guys been able to coalesce with one another over the past few years?
CM : We get along great. He’s a real straightforward guy. He’s very smart and does a good job. He’s refined himself a lot more this year with race strategy. Because we’ve been able to hire a couple of more people and able to spread the work load more, he’s able to focus on race strategy versus being the engineer or sitting in the car. He still does all that and he and I get along great, as long as we continue to stay together and build something.
RT : What would be a good finish to this season for you and the 13 team? Are you looking for a win?
CM : We always have lofty goals internally and we’re optimistic, so we’d love to get a win and make the Chase. At the end of the day, the reality is that it’s our second full time season as an organization. Last year was an eye-opener to say the least on the workload that it actually takes to compete for a full season.
I think that we’ve staffed up and done a lot better for this year. If we can finish inside the top-20 in points, that’d be great. You start looking at the numbers and what it takes to do that and you have to finish really well for the remainder of the year. I don’t think it’d be satisfactory but it’d be a good goal for us to have.
RT : If you win, do you get to say, “Guess what day it is?”
CM : (laughs) That’s right! That’s right. No kidding, except it won’t be Wednesday – it’ll be a good day!
RT : For the race this weekend at Loudon, what would be a realistically good weekend for you here?
CM : A good weekend for us would be finishing inside the top-15. A top-20 would be an OK weekend. We obviously would have like to have started this weekend a lot better than we have. It’s kind of a roll of the dice here for us but we’re really working hard to make sure we’re not outside of the top-20 week in and week out and if we’re in that top-20, we want to think about being in the top-15.
Author's Notes : Photo acknowledgements in the interview feature are from CIA Stock Photo for GEICO Racing. We'd also like to say thanks to Casey for letting us interview him at NHMS this past weekend, as well as to Lori Smith for assisting us with our request. Thank you! If you'd like to "Follow" more of the No. 13 team's season, here's Casey's Twitter and GEICO Racing's account!