NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Casey Mears

Casey Mears

2010 Rides: No. 90 Keyed Up Motorsports Chevrolet, No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet, No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyota, No. 13 Germain Racing Toyota
2010 Primary Sponsors: Juice Air Fresheners (No. 90), H.D. Segar Inc. (No. 36), Mohawk Electric (No. 36), Red Bull (No. 83), GEICO (No. 13)
2010 Owners: Raymond Key (No. 90), Tommy Baldwin (No. 36), Dietrich Mateschitz (No. 83), Bob Germain (No. 13)
2010 Crew Chiefs: Doug Richert (No. 90), Tommy Baldwin (No. 36), Ryan Pemberton (No. 83), Jimmy Elledge (No. 83), Bootie Barker (No. 13)
2010 Stats: 21 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 0 poles, 36th in points

High Point: Signing with Germain Racing. For Mears, the 2010 season was brutal. He has always had rides with strong teams – Ganassi, Hendrick and Childress – but was left out in the cold when sponsorship couldn’t be found for him in the Childress camp. He began the year with startup Keyed-Up Motorsports, then went to Tommy Baldwin’s operation, subbed with Red Bull Racing and finally landed with Germain.

In that simple signing, he found something important to every driver: stability. He improved the average finish of the No. 13 by nearly six positions, and for the first time, Mears knew where he stood for the following year; he was able to put his full effort into the racecar.

Low Point: For Mears, the first time he had to park a racecar early. “The hardest thing for me to do in my career was the first time I ever had to pull in. I’ve raced since I was 3 or 4 years old, and I’ve never pulled in halfway or partway through a race. It’s one of the most painful things I’ve ever done,” said Mears in an “interview with Frontstretch in October. Nobody wants to do it and nobody wants to talk about it, but it’s surely the most difficult reality in racing today.

Summary: It wasn’t pretty. That much is clear about Mears’s 2010 season. Released from Richard Childress Racing, Mears had to settle for a bottom-tier team to start the year. Just how bottom-tier Keyed-Up Motorsports was became apparent when the team failed to qualify for five of the first six races, making the show only at Bristol. When sponsorship didn’t materialize, Mears was tapped as a stand-in for an injured Denny Hamlin, but never got in the car.

He then moved to Tommy Baldwin Racing, a start-and-park organization that was at least committed to running all the races. Mears thanked Baldwin at Richmond in May, posting the best qualifying position the team had to that point but also missed Darlington.

Things looked up in June, when Brian Vickers hand-picked Mears as his replacement upon learning he would be out for the year with blood clots. Mears did a solid if not spectacular job in four races in Vickers’s Red Bull ride, until he tangled with teammate Scott Speed at Michigan and Speed (who had been beaten twice by Mears in the previous three races) made it clear he didn’t want Mears as a teammate.

Mears returned to TBR until Bristol, where he took over the Germain machine from a struggling Max Papis. From there, the season looked like a yo-yo: when there was sponsorship on the No. 13, Mears ran admirably in the underfunded Toyota, finishing consistently in the low 20s. But when there was no sponsor, Mears was forced to park early, and the finishes went away with the laps.

The bright spots for Mears were few, but two races of additional sponsorship from GEICO late in the year at a time when much bigger teams can’t find backing, plus Mears’ signing with Germain for 2011 – the first time he will remain with the same team and crew chief in several years – have things looking up.

Team Ranking: First. After bouncing around early, Mears replaced Papis at Germain Racing, a single-car operation, where his team isn’t the main focus – it’s the only one at the Sprint Cup level.

Off-Track News: Mears was married to Trisha Grablander in January 2010. The couple has one daughter, Samantha.

2011 Outlook: It could be worse. Mears will return to Germain, a team that has multiple championships in the Camping World Truck Series but lacks Cup experience. If they can ride out the growing pains, Mears will find himself with a dedicated team owner who understands how to assemble a top-caliber organization. The problem is money: GEICO is signed for just 18 races, leaving the team searching for half a season’s worth of backing. If they can find that, Mears should easily move the team into a coveted Top-35 spot in owner points. If not, it will be a struggle with start-and-park status again.

Mears needs a solid season; pegged as a driver who has never quite reached his potential, there won’t be a lot of other opportunities if Mears doesn’t show what he can do. In reality, his best year, 2007, was probably the one most indicative of his talent – he won a race, had a handful of top fives, several top 10s and finished 15th in points in a very good car.

Given that, the ultra fan-friendly Mears could be a great choice for Germain – he’s a better driver than he appears at first glance, but he’s not going to set the world on fire, either. Germain doesn’t need a world-beater, though; they need a solid, dependable driver who can improve their cars a bit each week. They have that in Mears, and Mears has the opportunity to show that he can improve equipment. It could be a win-win situation.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: C+
2007 Grade: B-
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: C
2010 Grade: C

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