The Frontstretch: 2012 NASCAR Driver Review: Casey Mears by Amy Henderson -- Wednesday January 2, 2013

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2012 NASCAR Driver Review: Casey Mears

Amy Henderson · Wednesday January 2, 2013

 

Casey Mears

2012 Ride: No. 13 Germain Racing Toyota
2012 Primary Sponsors: GEICO / Valvoline NextGen (2 races)
2012 Owner: Bob Germain
2012 Crew Chief: “Bootie” Barker

Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top 5s, 0 top 10s, 1 pole (unofficial; based on practice speeds due to rain at Bristol), 11 DNFs, 29th in points.

Average Start: 26.4.
Average Finish: 27.2.
Best Finish: 15th – Sonoma.

2012 Team Ranking: 1st of 1. Mears drives for the single-car Germain Racing operation, which is looking to expand down the road but remains primarily focused on its No. 13 Ford. At times in the past, they’ve put out a second, start-and-park vehicle but even that disappeared from the landscape once GEICO increased their funding prior to 2012.

High Point: Talladega, October. Mears led laps under green and had a top-5 finish (and possibly the win) in the bag, pushing Michael Waltrip toward the front on the final lap, when Tony Stewart threw an ill-advised block, causing a crash that involved nearly 20 cars, including the No. 13. Mears ran well enough to be a top-5 threat in all four restrictor plate races, in fact but Lady luck intervened every time. Fuel injection issues in the Daytona 500, plus not being able to find drafting help became roadblocks that derailed solid performances. Still, running that well throughout each event gives this team confidence they’ll contend in 2013 — as long as the Russian Roulette restrictor plate chips fall their way.

Mears also pulled out two solid results at the road courses, Sonoma and Watkins Glen, putting together an average finish of 15.5. Max Papis, the team’s former driver a few years ago had his greatest success at these facilities and the setups seem to have carried over well.

Low Point: Pick any one of the six races where Mears was forced to end the day early due to lack of sponsorship. Looks can be deceiving; while GEICO was on the hood for 34 races, they weren’t footing the bills in all of those events, and the team was forced to make some difficult decisions. Don’t mistake Germain Racing for a start-and-park organization, though; they would run the distance every week if the money was there. The Spring race at Martinsville might also rank pretty high on Mears’ list of races he’d like to forget; he was physically ill for the second half of the event and was lucky simply to eke out 25th, four laps off the pace. Come to think of it, that was probably not the high point for the crew guys who had to clean out the car afterwards, either…

Summary: The building process in NASCAR’s top division is a slow, painful one for an upstart team, and Germain Racing hasn’t been immune from the growing pains. But the team is moving in the right direction. Max Papis ran a limited schedule in 2009, failing to qualify six times, though the road course specialist did score a top 10 at Watkins Glen. In 2010, Mears took over for Max Papis at midseason and the team saw a bit of improvement; Mears failed to put the car in the field just once to Papis’ five times and improved the team’s average finish by seven positions. In 2011, Mears missed the Daytona 500, but improved the team’s average finish by another spot and locked the team into the top 35 for the start of 2012. The team also switched from Toyota to Ford in the offseason, a decision that catapulted them further up the NASCAR pecking order. For the first time since entering the Cup Series, the team made every race in 2012 and ran competitively at the restrictor plate tracks in particular, as well as at Sonoma and in the short track races. Mears has always been something of a hard-luck driver — he’s had good finishes taken away by circumstance on plenty of occasions throughout his career — and that’s also true of this team. While Mears improved their average finish another spot and a half, increasing the overall growth in that area to +9.0 since he took over, the right luck (in terms of no mechanical gremlins) would have left them inside the top 25 in points. Still, the team’s 29th-place finish in the owner standings is its best ever as they continue their gradual climb upward, accruing respect at the sport’s top level along the way.

2013 Outlook: The No. 13 team has some potential. While a single-car outfit isn’t going to set the world on fire in today’s NASCAR, teams like Furniture Row Racing have shown that a small team can be competitive when the chips fall right. The Germain family has taken a team to the top in the Camping World Truck Series, and ownership is committed to bringing success to the Sprint Cup effort as well. Mears and crew chief “Bootie” Barker work well together, and Mears is a veteran driver who will finish races and not tear up equipment. Making the most of their opportunities to compete, the team is even showing promise on intermediates, which are the biggest challenge for every small team as the cost of running well rises.

The big obstacle that is right now keeping this group in the middle of the single-car competitors is sponsorship — GEICO will return in 2013 but will not cover the entire schedule. Until the money is there for the team to race for their best finish every week, they will struggle to take the next step. Germain has the personnel in place, though from driver to crew chief and the rest of the team to take it to that next level and run with Furniture Row Racing and JTG-Daugherty, who are currently best in class. What’s not in place is the money to make that leap, and until a sponsor makes a commitment for the unfunded races, the prognosis is guarded at best. The team should continue to improve in individual events, but will continue to struggle as a whole as long as they have to park early a few times a year.

The bottom line statistically for Mears and Co. heading into 2013? If they can avoid the bad luck that struck in 2012, a couple of top 10s aren’t out of the question, especially at Daytona or Talladega. Heck, if luck really fell on their side, a top 5 or even a win at those tracks wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of imagination. Mears is good on the road courses, too, so a decent finish wouldn’t be a total shock. But the team needs these finishes to happen, almost every time out at this point in its development. What we shouldn’t expect is for a big points improvement, because as long as Mears has to park early in that handful of races, the teams that run every week will come out on top.

2011 Frontstretch.com Grade: C+.
2012 Grade: C+. While there was some improvement this year, it wasn’t quite enough to put Mears and the No. 13 team in the “above average” territory of a B-level grade. In order to do that, they need to post a top 10 or two.

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