Amy Henderson · Friday October 18, 2013
Midway through the 2010 season, Casey Mears was about as low as a driver can get. After Richard Childress Racing closed down his race team due to lack of funding, Mears bounced from one struggling team to another, no doubt wondering whether or not anyone would take a chance on him. It was yet another struggling team that would do just that…and it proved to be a great match. Mears joined Germain Racing as the team was transitioning from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series into Sprint Cup, and gained stability for the first time in a long time.
Fast forward to 2013, and Mears and the team have come a long way, climbing from a part time start-and-park operation to become the best of the sport’s small teams, a success in a sport where success doesn’t come easy and doesn’t always mean the same thing. But just how much further could the team go? What looked a few weeks ago to be a limited future suddenly became much larger after the team formed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Mears sat down with our Amy Henderson in Charlotte to talk about what the alliance means for his team, where they go from here, and memories of his first Cup win.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch.com: Let’s talk about the alliance with RCR-it’s a very big deal for your team, and everyone has seen what it did for Furniture Row Racing. Can you talk about the level of the alliance and what it will do for your team?
Casey Mears: We may build some of our own bodies; some parts, maybe. It’s a huge step in the right direction for our program. The biggest thing that we’ve lacked is quality teammates and partners to be able to gauge ourselves off of. I know from being with big teams in the past that there’s just so much information coming through in practice and having that first-hand knowledge of what the other cars have in them and what guys are doing for tire pressures, what they change throughout practice. All that stuff is going to be a huge benefit. What we understand we’re going to get is a wide-open book. If that’s the case, it’s going to be a really, really positive step in the right direction for our team.
Henderson: What does it do for you personally, as a driver, to see Richard Childress’ comments about the talent you bring to the team and knowing that you’ve played a big part in bringing the team from a start and park to this level?
Mears: It’s not just me, for sure. I feel like I’ve been one of the components, but all these guys on this team have contributed a lot. I’ve had a good relationship with Richard even before I ever drove for him. He’s always been one of those guys—it’s kind of funny—he’s always kind of kept his eye on me. whenever I had a good run in the 41 car, he was one of the first guys to stop me and say, ‘man, you did a hell of a job,” or really give comment, so I always appreciated that from him. When I started driving for him, I really enjoyed it. He gave us all the tools to figure out how to go fast. I really enjoy driving for Bob (Germain) right now, but to have the alliance with RCR and to know that there’s that level of confidence from that organization in my ability is exciting for sure. They need to know that we’re taking what they’re giving us and doing good things with it as well. We don’t want to be a team that is just taking from them. We want to contribute to the whole program. The only way we can do that is to utilize that information the best we can and make it to where our program is a viable program to look at from their end to look at and gain something from as well.
Henderson: You also have a veteran crew chief in Bootie Barker who can bring a lot to the table.
Mears: Bootie has never really been in that situation before, so I’m excited for him. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of some big organizations where you had guys to lean on. But Bootie’s never really been in a situation like this. When he was a crew chief with Haas Racing, it was just growing and they didn’t really have the same level of alliance with Hendrick at that time. He worked for Bill Davis in Nationwide with Scott Wimmer, and they had some success, but they did a lot of things on their own. I think it’s exciting on a lot of fronts, but Bootie’s excited about it as well because he’s never really been in a situation where you get all that information and he’s excited about it.
Henderson: It’s about the team, too. Talk a little about the process of your team from starting and parking to where you are now. Germain had a lot of success in the Truck Series with a couple of titles, but coming to Cup was a whole new game. The team started as a start and park, this year you’re running every race, and next year you have the new alliance. Tell me about the process and what the team has gone through to get to this point.
Mears: When I first came over here, there were 100 employees and about 93 of them worked on the truck teams, and we were in the other shop; we were kind of the stepchild. We were just scrapping together parts, trying to put together a decent program. When we first stated, it’s kind of funny now, but we were such a big organization that we felt like the tagalong program then they had full truck programs. A lot of times when we were out of town, we had to lock things up because we’d come back and our sway bars would be missing and all that kind of thing. Bob has really put a lot of focus on this 13 car and restructured the whole team to be focused on it. Being in the other shop now, they went through and kept all the guys that we really felt like we wanted to utilize and build a really strong program. This year, being able to run our first full season was a big step in the right direction, but at the same time, it was one of those things when we were all very excited about it and all of a sudden reality set in. We were like, how are we going to make this work? Logistically, how are we going to make sure that we make sure we have all the cars prepared and ready on time with the guys we have. Our guys have stepped up and done a great job. To see it build to this point, we’ve been hugely successful, really, in how we started out to where we are now. But to make that next step and crack the top 20, top 15 on a regular basis and have opportunity to win races, we needed to do something like this. That’s one thing I really have to compliment Bob on; slowly over these last three years that I’ve been here, at the end of the day, every time it was time to step up and reaffirm his commitment to what he’s doing, he always has. And he did it again this year; he’s made another big step financially and personally to the program. It’s exciting. We’re getting close to being a viable race team.
Henderson: For you personally, 2010 was a tough year before you came over to Germain. Talk about what that was like and what it’s meant to you to be an integral part of a team.
Mears: It’s for sure rewarding. We still have our struggles—I’ve been throwing a fit on the radio all week this week because we’ve just been off. But it has been really rewarding to see it grow and to be a large part of it. When people look to you to for where are we going next, what are we going to do, how are we going to help the program, being a part of those discussions behind the scenes with Bob and Larry. I’ve been fortunate to not just come in and give my piece about the car and then walk out. I’ve been in a position where a lot of guys ask me my opinion on where the direction of the company should go as well, and it’s been fun. It’s been rewarding. There are a lot of people who have done a lot of good work here to get the thing to this point, and it’s rewarding to see it grow like it has.
Henderson: You talked about the alliance, but you’ll also be making a manufacturer switch from Ford to Chevy. On one hand, it’s your second manufacturer switch in two years and that’s a lot of work for the team, but you have had a lot of success in Chevys in the past.
Mears: Ford has been great. It was fun to be able to drive with those guys for a while. That wasn’t the key element in making the manufacturer change. But I am excited to be back in a Chevrolet next year as well just because those guys were really good to us too, when I was a part of it. You never know how this sport is going to filter out sometimes, but right now, at the end of the day, this was the best situation for our whole program. I think it’s always tough in these situations to be excited about the next program without making it sound like you were unhappy with the other, but that’s just not the case. It’s been a great relationship with Ford up to this point, but at the same time, we’re looking forward to the move to Chevrolet.
Henderson: You had your first win here at Charlotte in a Chevrolet.
MEARS: First sounds better than only, appreciate that (laughing).
Henderson: It does, doesn’t it? What’s your biggest memory of that night?
Mears: There’s a ton. Just crossing the start-finish line was huge. There were so many cool things about that night that it’s hard to say what moment in that night was the biggest. The whole night itself was just a lot of fun. It was a big win for a lot of reasons. At that time it was Chevrolet’s first points win for their new motor at the time in the longest race we run all season long. It was Memorial Day weekend, and we had the names of fallen soldiers all over the deck lid of the car. Memorial Day weekend has been big for my family. There are just a lot of things that made that fun. I think seeing your peers come up and congratulate you was pretty amazing. Jimmie Johnson and I pretty much grew up together; he’s more like a brother than a friend. At that time he’d already won a bunch of races, so (my win) was exciting for him at that point.
Henderson: If you look at the driver points, owner points, right now you are the best among your peers What’s the next step from here?
Mears: For sure with where we are, and where we are budget-wise for a single-car team, I would say that we are probably 90% of the time beating the guys we should beat. Probably 30 to 40 percent of the time,(we’re) beating guys that we probably shouldn’t. We’re hoping this relationship with RCR really puts us in that next tier where we’re viewing ourselves as a viable, consistent top 20 to top 15 team. In my mind that’s what we need to do. At that point, if we can get running there on a consistent basis, you can start looking at lap times. Usually the lap times from fifth to 12th or 15th aren’t that different. Once you start getting in that range, you really have something. Once you can say you can run top 15, that means that you can make the right calls, make the right decisions, qualify a little better than the next guy, and have a legitimate shot of being inside the top 10 or top 5 or wins. That’s really where we need to be setting our goals for next year.
Want to read more about Germain Racing’s technical alliance with RCR and what it does for Mears and the race team? Read all about it in Amy Henderson’s award-winning column, Holding A Pretty Wheel today on The Frontstretch!
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