NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Casey Mears

Casey Mears

2011 Ride: No. 13 Germain Racing Toyota
2011 Primary Sponsor: GEICO, Hard Rock Vodka
2011 Owner: Bob Germain
2011 Crew Chief: Bootie Barker
2011 Stats: 35 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 8 DNFs, 31st in points

High Point: The last month of the season. For Mears, 2011 represented the first time in several years that he was with the same team and crew chief he ended the previous year with. It was also the first year in which the No. 13 ran a full season of races. Even though the No. 13 ran a limited schedule in 2009 and 2010, this was essentially a first-year team, and there were growing pains.

But the last month of the season showed promise for Mears and the Germain organization, which has two Camping World Truck Series championships with Todd Bodine. In the final five races of 2011, Mears finished 17th, 12th, 25th, 26th and 26th. While a bigger, better-funded team might scoff at those numbers, for Mears it was a small breakthrough. His 21st-place average in the final five races is over seven spots higher than his season average.

“I think it’s great to be able to finish off the year like this,” said Mears in November. “the things that we’ve accomplished in the last four or five weeks have really gotten a lot of people at Germain Racing excited. With what Bob has planned for next season, with kind of a renewed focus on the No. 13, it’s good to finish off the season with momentum and good information, and it will hopefully roll over into good results for 2012.”

Low Point: Missing the Daytona 500. Mears and his team knew going to Daytona that the current qualifying structure made making the race difficult at best. A blown engine in his qualifying race meant that Mears would sit out the Great American race. Missing the first race of the year put the team in a difficult position behind some of their competitors in the scramble to be in the Top 35 after five races, when current season points kick in to determine guaranteed starting spots.

Another bitter pill for Mears and his team was the seven races the team had to start-and-park. Without sponsorship for that handful of races, Mears and his team had to face the economic reality that is becoming rampant in NASCAR today in which teams can start races in hopes of gaining some information or exposure, but must retire early due to lack of funds for things like tires and other critical items. It certainly wasn’t what Mears or his team wanted to do, but they were able to use those abbreviated weekends almost like test sessions, and the things they learned helped the marked improvement the team showed late in the year.

Summary: For an established, top-funded team, Mears’s season would have been a disappointment, but for a fledgling team struggling to establish itself among those bigger teams, it was just fine. After missing the Daytona 500, Mears qualified for every race. He put the team in the Top 35 in owner points and kept it there for the remainder of the year. In the second week of the season, Mears gave a hint that his team was capable of strong runs, finishing 18th.

The early months of the season were not quite as fruitful, but they did help establish a pattern. The team thrived on tracks a mile and under, but the intermediates proved a bigger challenge, not uncommon for teams that lack horsepower. The team worked hard on their intermediate program and the results began to show.

They built their first in-house chassis for Mears and found more speed in their setups. Horsepower remained an issue, but the team made significant gains in other areas. Meanwhile, Mears ran well at the short tracks and was able to be competitive, culminating at Martinsville in the fall, where he ran in the top five for much of the day and finished a respectable 12th. He also ran exceptionally well in restrictor-plate races, running in the top 10 for much of the races at Daytona and Talladega in the second half of the year.

For Mears and his Germain Racing team, small gains were the name of the game in 2011. There was no magic bullet, but rather slow, steady improvement that often didn’t show in the individual race results, but made an impact to the team in how the cars handled. The results came around slowly, moving from low 30s early on, to high 30s and finally more and more into the 20s late in the year. To the casual observer, 2011 may have looked like a wash, when in reality, it was an important step forward for the No. 13 team.

Team Ranking: First of one. Mears was a definite No. 1 at Germain Racing, though the team did run a couple of start-and-park operations throughout the year.

Off-Track News: Mears and his wife, Trisha, welcomed their second child, a son named Hayden in May. Trisha showed off her own racing skills in the Better Half Dash at Charlotte in October, finishing the race in second place.

2012 Outlook: Mixed. No team makes goes from its first full season to the top of the heap, and nobody expects this from the No. 13 team. What they need to do under the leadership of crew chief Bootie Barker is to continue the upswing they enjoyed late in 2011 and build on that momentum. Mears pointed out late in 2011 that by improving the cars handling, they also exposed other areas in which they need to work, and that bodes well.

With racecars, identifying the problem is often at least as difficult as fixing it, so Mears and his team are ahead of some of their counterparts. They are also locked into the Daytona 500 and the rest of the first five races, which should give them an even better foundation than they had a year ago.

Another goal is to find funding for the races on the schedule that GEICO doesn’t sponsor. Mears said late in 2011 that he’s optimistic on that front and that he’s looking forward to the upcoming season.

“Things are looking good,” Mears said in early November. “We’re slowly but surely putting the season together with sponsorship. It’s by no means complete, but it looks as optimistic as it has for a long time. We’re fortunate to have GEICO coming back with us next year, and I’m excited about the interest we’ve had from some other sponsors as well. Hopefully we can keep our heads down and put it all together and have a full season next year.”

2006 Frontstretch Grade: C+
2007 Grade: B-
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: C
2010 Grade: C
2011 Grade: C+

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