By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After the checkered flag waved at the 2016 Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead, veteran driver Casey Mears would have to wait until this Sunday’s Daytona 500 to take the green flag at the sport’s highest level after Germain Racing replaced him with Ty Dillon in 2017.
During that span of absence, Mears felt that he was far from being finish in the racing world, but also made sure that he wasn’t going to be a guy that simply rides around to get a paycheck.
“I wasn’t done,” said Mears. “When they said I wasn’t going to be back for 2017, I definitely wasn’t done in my mind. I would’ve loved to have run for at least another four to five years.
“I love driving race cars and I love beating that next guy,” said Mears. “As soon as you lose that drive to pass that next guy in front of you. As soon as you’re okay with that guy finishing in front of you. Then you need to get out of the sport. I don’t like people in front of me.”
Among the types of racing Mears has been running was the Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks, including last month’s Race of Champions in Mexico City, where he ran Arie Luyendyk, Jr.’s truck but was eliminated in the first round in both races.
However, he expressed his enthusiasm on how the fans react to the races, which stands out the most when discussing about the series.
“It was a lot of fun. Robby (Gordon’s) series is a little bit of a hybrid. You run a lot of pavement in those races and I love it,” said Mears. “The trucks are a lot of fun and the races are great, and I would do it regardless, but the one thing I really like about it is the fans reaction.
“It’s absolutely insane. Every time I run one of those truck races, and somebody’s been exposed for the first time, I can’t believe their reactions that we get after the race and how excited the fans are to see what we do. I really enjoy that part of it.”
Coming into the sport as one of the youngest drivers in 2003, the now 39-year-old was self-aware that he’s had incredible opportunities in the sport, driving for top teams such as Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing.
“I was hoping that it wasn’t because I wasn’t really done when things shook out the way it did,” said Mears. “There’s so many new young guys coming in now, and I was one of them at one point. The reality hit about midway through the season knowing it could be my last race.
“Fortunately, I’m able to come back. I’ve had a great relationship with Bob Germain and when he decided to run a second car, I’m glad he called me.”
Mears was one of six drivers who have to race their way in and only two of them would be locked in by their qualifying speeds last Sunday, where he was 26th fastest, which was a spot better than Ryan Truex, but good enough to get him in the Daytona 500 for the 13th time in 15 attempts.
“It feels good to be locked in. I’ve been on both ends of it and gone home from this race,” Mears on making the field and understanding the aspect of making the 500 and failing to qualify. “We blew a motor one year in the 150s and didn’t make it. I’ve also barely made it in the 150s on the last lap. To be able to come here on speed, and make it in and back locked in is a huge relief.
“We all kind of knew that Tyler Reddick was probably going to be fastest out of the group. There was two guys that we really had to beat, between Tommy Baldwin Racing (Truex’s team) and Brendan Gaughan. The fact that we barely edged out Truex was a big sign that we’re going to have a good shot at it.”
Sunday’s race is the only one the former Coca-Cola 600 winner will be running in NASCAR, but remains hopeful that it could lead to more races in the future.
“Bob wanted to run Daytona, but you never know,” Mears explained. “If things go well and Bob’s excited about how things went, there’s some potential there. You never know what it’ll transpire, but right now it’s just this week.
“It takes a lot of funding and finances to do that. Whether you win or not doesn’t rain money at that point and make sure to run those events to make it happen. Right now, we’re talking about this weekend and that’s it.”
While their focus is solely on the Great American Race, Mears recently acquired a sponsorship on his black No. 27 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, as a skateboard company called Rim Ryderz jumped aboard on this effort, which he added that he literally got the company hat coming into Media Day, that the details of whether or not it’ll be a primary sponsor remains unknown.
“I think it’s going to be a primary. I don’t have all the details yet but what they do is interchangeable skateboard wheels,” Mears explained. “I’m learning as I go, but it looks like a pretty cool company. I know they’re going to be on the car, but whether or not it’s primary, I’m not sure yet.”
This project, which conversations began three weeks ago, wouldn’t have been made possible without the desire of Germain wanting to run a second car at Daytona, the experience crew chief Pat Tryson has on superspeedways, and Premium Motorsports owner Jay Robinson’s facilitating the year and half up to two year-old car.
“Premium Motorsports are facilitating the whole program,” said Mears. “Even though its a Germain entry, but they’ve hired them to come in and run this whole program and Pat did an excellent job with the limited amount of resources.
“I like the way he does things and if wasn’t for him, I don’t think we would’ve had the speed that we had. His knowledge got us there quickly and that was a big deal.”
Additionally, Mears stated that he’s willing of helping the team he ran for seven seasons and appreciates how the team went from a start and park to a team that’s improved over time.
“I feel like I was a big part of building Germain Racing and being a part of it. Although I was frustrated with the way some things went down and wasn’t a part of it anymore. I still have a lot of pride at the fact that the team has been building, learning and growing. It was exciting for me to help the program again. If I can do anything throughout the week to work together as a team to help elevate the whole program, that’s what I want to do.”