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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Casey Mears

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In February, Casey Mears did what he had done for most of the last 14 years. He traveled to Daytona to participate in media day for NASCAR’s Speedweeks.

Then he left.

For the first time since 2003, Mears had no part in NASCAR’s on-track festivities building up to and including the Daytona 500. The “odd” circumstances were a result of Mears’ seven-year relationship with Germain Racing ending at the end of 2016.

The winner of the 2007 Coke 600 and a veteran of 488 Cup starts waited until the March 25 Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway for his first track action of 2017. Mears has since competed in 12 races for Biagi DenBeste Racing in the No. 98 Ford and will end the year with the races at Phoenix and Miami.

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The schedule has provided him his most free time since his days driving Indy Lights.

“It was definitely tough at the beginning of the year to watch the races and not being a part of them,” Mears told NBC Sports. “Just out of, what do I want to say, repetitiveness. Just so many years of going every single weekend and then all of a sudden not going was definitely an adjustment for sure. The flip side of that is that it’s been a good thing. I’ve had a lot of time. … Even though I have a passion for racing and would still get right back in it at a full season opportunity again if the opportunity came around. But knowing that it hasn’t for this year, it’s been fun to take advantage of the time I do have.

“I’ve gotten to make a lot of my kid’s games and tournaments. My kids are involved in gymnastics and soccer and basketball and all those kind of things. Actually being home for some weekends and getting to watch some of their games and be a part of that stuff has been really enjoyable. But it’s been adjustment for sure.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: How was your Global Rally Cross experience last weekend? Was that the first time you’ve done that?

Mears: I really enjoyed that. … When the series was first trying to get rolling, they did some events at Loudon and at Charlotte, kind of on the front stretch and then in the infield during our race weekends when we were racing Cup. I was exposed to it a little bit then. Years ago I entered the Race of Champions over in Spain (in 2003). I got to drive a Peugeot for a couple of laps, which is a world rally car there. … I’ve been looking at that series talking to those guys about possibly getting involved, and I just wanted to go out to California last week. It was their last race of the year. … It seems like the series really has some legs and starting to take off. … It seems like there’s a lot of IndyCar car guys, open-wheel guys that are involved that series right now. Not just drivers, but team owners. Michael Andretti, Bryan Herta. Those guys are all involved. And when I look around at a lot of the teams, they’re all guys I worked with in the past on my Indy Lights teams and IndyCar programs I drove for. … It was kind of a big reunion in a lot of ways of catching up with people I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

NBC Sports: What was the first NASCAR race you ever attended?

Mears: The very first NASCAR race, that was sanctioned by NASCAR, would have to be when my dad (Roger Mears) did the Truck Series. The very first year that Truck Series started my dad was a part of that. He ran a handful of races (four points races). I want to say the very first (exhibition) race was at Mesa Marin in Bakersfield, California, where I grew up. I was at the very first ever Truck race at Mesa Marin.

NBC Sports: What do you remember about that?

Mears: My dad was involved so a lot of my memories revolve around the team and the program that he was trying to put together. I remember helping him build the truck. I remember as a younger guy building the floorboards for the truck and the foot rests and a lot of stuff in the interior. Just because from a driver standpoint that was the stuff I was most familiar with at the time and I was pretty young. … I had to be probably 12, 13 years old.

NBC Sports: How did you go from open-wheel racing to stock cars? What prompted it?

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Mears: What really drove it was the state of open-wheel racing at the time. At that moment, open-wheel racing was in a flux at best. I had done the Indy Lights thing, had won races and finished (second) one year in the championship and (third) the following year in the championship and it was really time for me to move on and go to that next level. I started dabbling in some IndyCar races. I did a race for Bobby Rahal and filled in for Alex Zanardi when he had a big accident in Germany. He lost his legs there. I ended up filling in for him for the remainder of the season. … I was sitting there trying to decide which was going to be the right way to go. I didn’t know if CART was going to be the future in IndyCar or if it was going to be IRL. Nobody really knew it. Randomly, I had a guy call me that was involved in a program in North Carolina, which was a Busch Series team at the time. It was Welliver-Jesel Racing. Welliver had been involved in the sport for quite awhile. Wayne Jesel was just getting involved and wanted to do an engine program and have a race team. A silent partner who was involved in the IndyCar side of things at that point said, ‘Hey, what are you doing next year? Would you like to come back and start stock car racing?’ The more I thought about it, my dad already moved back in 2000 and was a shop foreman for Chip Ganassi and his stock car program. He kept telling me how much was going on back east and how many teams there were and all the racing that was happening. ‘You got to get back here and check it out.’ All those things combined made me make a decision to go ahead and try it.

NBC Sports: What about stock car racing appealed to you that other forms of racing you’d been in couldn’t provide?

Mears: That’s a good question. Because I loved open-wheel racing and I still do. The cars are very fun to drive, I definitely have a passion for it based on my family’s history and the people that I knew. The stock car thing was really foreign to me. … The one thing I learned that I enjoyed about stock car racing that I didn’t know that I was going to like was the short tracks. It took me awhile to get the hang of them because they were probably the thing that was most different from anything I’d ever done before. Probably my third year in stock car racing the one thing I really enjoyed about it was how diverse all the tracks were.

NBC Sports: Where is your Coke 600 trophy? Where does it sit now?

Mears: Right now it’s in my office in my house.

NBC Sports: How often do you stop and look at that?

Mears: You know you get used to it being there and not often. I think that’s what trophies are kind of cool for, right? You get used to having them and over time and it’s another piece of equipment in your house. But what’s cool about having a couple of them on display is that every now and then somebody sees it and wants to ask about it. It helps you relive those cool moments from your life. Every now and then a friend comes over or somebody new comes to the house and asks about em’. It’s sitting right next to the (2006) 24 Hours of Daytona win (trophy) and a win I had in Houston in Indy Lights. It’s just cool to have. It was a very special moment in my life. I think in my long career in NASCAR I obviously didn’t accumulate a lot of wins. I have the one for winning in Charlotte, so it’s definitely a special moment.

NBC Sports: What’s your dream car?

Mears: I lived my dream for a little while. I can tell you that. I had a sand car, I know it’s not a vehicle you drive on a road. I had a sand car that had about 1,300 horsepower. Out of anything I’ve driven outside of motorsports, it’s the most fun thing I’ve ever driven. Horsepower-wise, handling, the whole scene of going out to the sand dunes and ripping around the sand dunes and a camp fire at night. That whole thing. That’s probably the most fun car I’ve ever had.

NBC Sports: If you could have a one-on-one matchup with any driver past or present on any track in any form of car, what would the arrangement be?

Mears: I would love to go head-to-head with my dad in an off-road event. Like the stadium trucks we used to race in the Mickey Thompson off-road stuff. About the time I was old enough to start moving up into the Truck Series was about the time the Mickey Thompson series kind of fell apart and I ended up going open-wheel racing. My brother and my dad raced against each other for years doing that stuff. He’s one of the guys I respect the most in the sport and it would just be a blast. It would probably never happen at this point in our careers, in our lives. But that’s something I would love to do.

NBC Sports: With Halloween coming up, what’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever had?

Mears: Last year or the year before my wife (Trisha) and I dressed up. I dressed up as Clark Griswold and she dressed up as Christie Brinkley from the Vacation movie. That was pretty fun.

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Kyle Busch feeling like ‘the new guy’ during his Rolex 24 debut at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Busch was looking forward to his first stint at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The two-time Cup champion was less enthused about his second turn behind the wheel in the IMSA season opener. Busch will climb back into the No. 14 Lexus RCF GT3 at 2 a.m. Sunday, just past the midpoint of the endurance race classic at Daytona International Speedway.

“That’s going to suck, yeah,” Busch deadpanned. “That’s exactly when I told them I did not want to run, and I got it.  Thank you very much.

“(I’m) the new guy.  I pulled the short straw.”

Click here to read more about how Busch felt about his AIM Vasser Sullivan car.

Kyle Larson has one last chance to rally for Australia title

Photo: Robert Lake Photography via Kyle Larson's official Twitter page
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The last week has been like the old Wide World of Sports slogan for Kyle Larson: namely, the thrill of victory followed by the agony of defeat.

After his triumphant win in the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma last Saturday, it has been nothing but agony for the NASCAR Cup star since he flew across the Pacific Ocean to compete in several sprint car races in Australia.

Larson’s first race on Wednesday in the King’s Challenge at Borderline Speedway was rained out.

That agony continued for Larson Friday in the first of the three nights of the Grand Annual Sprint Car Classic in Warrnambool, Australia, the biggest race of the year down under.

First, he wrecked heavily, including flipping, in a heat race (he was uninjured). After making repairs, he went back out on-track in another heat race, only to suffer a blown engine that knocked him out of contention to race in that evening’s feature event.

In Night 2 of the Classic on Saturday, Larson did not compete, leaving him to serve as a cheerleader for fellow American and teammate Carson Macedo, who finished 14th out of 20 drivers in the 30-lap main event.

Not being able to compete was a disappointment for Larson, who was one of the top-billed drivers taking part in the overall three-day Classic.

Larson will have one last chance to make Sunday’s featured championship event — but he’ll need a lot of luck and good fortune on his side. There will be several heat races that will whittle the top 48 drivers from each qualifying event to determine the top 16 in points who will compete in the A Main championship event.

There are 80 other drivers — including Larson — still left to compete in the B, C and D Mains who will also try to race their way into the A Main.

Larson currently sits tied for 77th place in the combined point standings in the 107-car field. Meanwhile, sitting 19th in the combined points, Macedo is the highest-ranked American driver heading into Sunday’s finale.

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Hailie Deegan on IMSA debut: ‘I’m not mad. I’m gaining experience’

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The first day of Hailie Deegan’s foray into sports car racing was one with mixed results.

Deegan and teammate, NASCAR Xfinity driver Chase Briscoe, finished 43rd of 51 teams that were entered in Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona International Speedway.

Deegan ran as high as 15th before the car experienced mechanical issues roughly three hours into the four-hour event, and it was brought in to be worked on for the remaining time.

Deegan and Briscoe were in the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Inc. Ford GT4, which ran a total of 86 laps. One other NASCAR driver, Xfinity pilot Austin Cindric, was teamed with Seb Priaulx in the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Inc. Ford Mustang GT4, and together they finished 45th, completing 78 laps.

One other name of note was IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves, who finished 28th (completed 107 laps).

The fastest team in the field was Dylan Murry, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Jim Cox, who collectively ran the entire 110 laps.

While her team continued to work on the car in the garage, Deegan visited the infield media center to speak about her first race experience in an IMSA sports car.

I feel like I just gained a lot of experience,” Deegan said. “I’m here to gain experience after that three-day road test, coming here and practicing for two days.

“I just feel like I know a lot more about racing than I did before. And that’s why I’m here and supposed to be doing.”

The biggest challenge, Deegan said, was the large number of cars she had to compete against.

“The traffic is a little difficult to deal with; it’s not bad, though,” Deegan said. “It makes it fun. It makes it interesting. You constantly have to be on your toes.

“What I like about sports car racing is how many of the points you have to remember in your head. You get a little distracted for a second, and the next thing you know, you overdrive the corner that kind of laps into the next corner.

“So there’s constantly so much going on, you have to be on top of your game.”

While she would have liked to have more time on track had it not been for the mechanical issue, Deegan was philosophical about how the day played out.

“I’m not mad, I’m gaining experience,” she said. “That’s what I’m here to do.”

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DC Solar founders to plead guilty to charges related to $1 billion Ponzi scheme

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Thirteen months after the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service raided the headquarters of DC Solar and the home of its founders, Jeff and Paulette Carpoff, the couple has entered plea agreements related to a $1 billion Ponzi scheme, the impact of which saw Chip Ganassi Racing close its Xfinity Series program in 2019.

Jeff Carpoff has agreed to plead guilty to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering while Paulette Carpoff will plead guilty to one count each of conspiracy and money laundering.

According to the plea agreements filed with the Eastern District of California, the government will recommend an initial sentence of 30 years in prison for Jeff Carpoff and 15 years for Paulette Carpoff prior to any co-operation they provide with the case.

The agreement outlines a Ponzi scheme that operated from March 2011 to December 2018, ending with the raids on the Carpoff’s residence in Martinez, California, and DC Solar’s headquarters in Benicia, California.

DC Solar was a company that built and leased solar energy equipment and also sponsored Chip Ganassi Racing in the Cup and Xfinity Series. It was the primary or co-primary sponsor for Kyle Larson in 16 Cup races and for three races with Jamie McMurray in 2018. It also sponsored 10 Xfinity races with Ganassi and announced in November 2018 it would sponsor Ross Chastain’s full-time ride in 2019.

It also sponsored Xfinity Series races in 2018 at Phoenix Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the infield “FanGrounds” at Richmond Raceway.

In the wake of the raids and the company filing for bankruptcy in January 2019, CGR was forced to close its Xfinity operation.

During the nearly eight-year scheme, the plea agreement says the Carpoffs used the money generated from it to buy their NASCAR sponsorships, 150 luxury and collectible vehicles and luxury real estate in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, the Caribbean and Mexico.

They also purchased a suite at a professional football stadium, a subscription private jet service, the Martinez (California) Clippers minor league baseball team and a 2018 performance by an internationally known rapper at a company holiday party.

Funds were also used to make illicit payments to their co-conspirators and others.

As part of their respective plea agreements, the Carpoffs have agreed to pay restitution to their victims, totaling between $800 million and $1.6 billion.