Casey Mears

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After being ‘beat down’ by superspeedways, Alan Gustafson gets first win

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Coming off the first off-week of the season, crew chief Alan Gustafson and his No. 9 team at Hendrick Motorsports had an interesting three-race stretch awaiting them.

The Cup Series would head to Talladega Superspeedway, Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

The last two tracks hold good memories for Gustafson and driver Chase Elliott. Two of their three wins last year came in the playoff races at Dover and Kansas. The 1-mile Dover is also the site of Elliott’s best average finish (4.3) through six starts.

“Probably of the three, I was most looking forward to Dover,” Gustafson said Sunday.  “I just love Dover, because when you win Dover, you’ve done something.  That’s a tough, fast track.  There’s no place to hide.  There’s no way you can get away with not being on the edge all day.”

But they had to go through Talladega to get there.

“I was looking forward to coming here,” Gustafson said. “I mean, you get a little beat down after doing it for so long, not getting the results, how fickle it can be.  Certainly don’t want to say I wasn’t looking forward to coming here.  You’re a bit cautious with your expectations because this place can bite you in a second.”

Elliott’s win Sunday at Talladega came in Gustafson’s 58th Cup points race on a superspeedway, with 29 each at Talladega and Daytona.

In those races, the first being the 2005 Daytona 500, Gustafson has worked with the likes of Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears and Elliott.

Outside a win in a Daytona 500 qualifying race in 2018, Gustafson had come up one spot short of victory lane three times at superspeedways.

The closest he came was in the July 2007 race at Daytona, when Jamie McMurray edged Busch by .005 of a second to steal the win.

Nearly 12 years later, a day that saw an increased amount of coordination among Chevy teams, ended with Elliott leading 45 laps (his most on a superspeedway), including the final four, to score the win.

In addition to Gustafson and Elliott’s first Cup superspeedway wins, the victory ended a seven-race stretch of Ford wins at Talladega. It also was Chevy’s first Cup win of the season.

“We needed to win this,” Gustafson said. “We needed to consolidate our efforts.  We needed to break the streak that one of our rivals has here. … (Crew members at Hendrick have) worked really, really hard.  Really haven’t had the results to pay off their efforts.”

Chase Elliott celebrates his first Cup win of 2019. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The win was also Hendrick Motorsports’ first on a superspeedway since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the July 2015 race at Daytona.

“Just thinking back a year or so, we’ve been so close to winning one of these (superspeedway) races for so long, haven’t been able to do it,” Gustafson said. “Happy for them we were able to get that done today.”

Elliott noted that it was “pretty cool” to get Gustafson’s first superspeedway win, but he observed that “a sticker is a sticker, the Playoff points are what they are.  I think it’s important to rack them up as early as you can, as long as you can keep stacking on top of it.”

While the No. 9 has been to victory lane four times in the last 25 races, Elliott doesn’t think they’re “winning often enough.”

“I feel like we need to be contending more,” Elliott said. “I see some of our competitors being in contention more than we have been throughout the season.  I think we can certainly do a better job.

“To have a win this early in the year I think is nice. And just because we won at Dover and Kansas last year doesn’t mean we’re going to go run good there, too. You know that.

“It’s going to be hit‑or‑miss.”

William Byron wins Daytona 500 pole; teammate Alex Bowman second

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It will be a Hendrick Motorsports front row for the Daytona 500. Again.

In his first on-track pairing with crew chief Chad Knaus, William Byron captured the pole (194.305 mph) and teammate Alex Bowman, who won last year’s 500 pole, will sit on the outside of the front row (194.154 mph).

It marked the fifth consecutive Daytona 500 pole for a Hendrick Chevrolet and the first of Byron’s Cup career.

“I thought the Chevy was real fast,” Byron told Fox Sports. “Credit to Chad and all the guys. It’s been a great offseason. We’re prepared. This is the first step of our process together.”

The last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole was NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett in 2000.

Only the starting positions for Byron and Bowman are locked in, though Hendrick drivers swept the top four spots in Sunday’s qualifying. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, who will start his first Cup race with crew chief Kevin Meendering after 16 seasons with Knaus, was third (193.807 mph), followed by Chase Elliott (193.782 mph).

The remainder of the 40-car field for the 500 will be set during Thursday’s two qualifying races.

Tyler Reddick and Casey Mears locked themselves into two of the four non-charter spots for the 500 via qualifying speeds Sunday. The other two non-charter entries will be determined Thursday during the qualifiers.

A total of six Chevrolet Camaros (including all four Hendrick Motorsports entries), four Ford Mustangs and two Toyota Camrys made the second and final 12-car qualifying round.

The rest of the second-round qualifiers were Daniel Hemric (192.460 mph), defending Cup champion Joey Logano (192.448), Martin Truex Jr. (192.353), Clint Bowyer (192.291), Brad Keselowski (192.263), defending Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon (191.416), Paul Menard (191.107) and Denny Hamlin (190.492).

Click here for full qualifying results.

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Preliminary Daytona 500 entry list released

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Forty-two cars are on the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 17 Daytona 500.

NASCAR released the entry list Wednesday night.

Among those on the entry list are: Casey Mears (No. 27, Germain Racing), Reigning Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick (No. 31, Richard Childress Racing), Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 Beard Motorsports), Joey Gase (No. 66, Motorsports Business Management), Ryan Truex (No. 71, Tommy Baldwin Racing) and NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman (No. 96, Gaunt Brothers Racing).

Click here for Daytona 500 entry list

MORE: Full Daytona Speedweeks schedule 

Casey Mears entered in second Germain Racing car for Daytona 500

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Germain Racing will use the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 to field a second car for the first time since 2011 and it will be piloted by former full-time driver Casey Mears.

Mears, who raced for Germain from 2010-16 in Cup, will drive the No. 27 Chevrolet. The team will be built and staffed through a partnership with Premium Motorsports. Pat Tryson will serve as crew chief.

Mears will be teammates with Ty Dillon, the current driver of Germain’s No. 13 Chevrolet.

“I have considered running a second car in the Daytona 500 for years,” owner Bob Germain said in a press release. “My immediate focus is still on our No. 13 team and the full season that Ty Dillon will run. However, when the chance to field a second car with Casey Mears came together this year with Jay Robinson building the car and providing the at-track crew, I wanted to jump on it.

“The Daytona 500 is a race that our team, sponsors and fans are all passionate about, and I am too. In a race where anything can happen, having a second entry is an exciting opportunity. Casey has been a part of our Germain Racing family for years, and I’m grateful that he’s willing to get behind the wheel for me again in this one race.”

Without a charter for the car, Mears is not guaranteed starting spot in the race.

Mears didn’t make any NASCAR starts in 2018.

He last competed in the 2017 Xfinity season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

Mears has 25 career Cup starts at Daytona International Speedway, with a best finish of second in the 2006 Daytona 500.

The addition of Mears makes for at least eight unchartered cars that could be entered into the Daytona 500.

With a maximum field of 40 cars, four will not make the field.

The uncharted cars include:

Mears

Tyler Reddick (No. 31 for Richard Childress Racing)

Ryan Truex (No. 71 for Tommy Baldwin Racing)

Joey Gase (No. 66 for MBM Motorsports)

Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 for Beard Motorsports)

Tanner Berryhill (No. 97 for Obaika Racing)

Parker Kligerman (No. 96 for Gaunt Brothers Racing)

JJ Yeley (No. 7 for NY Racing).

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NASCAR America: Hendrick Motorsports still has ground to make up

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Hendrick Motorsports may have turned a corner with top-10 runs at Pocono Raceway last week from Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott, but they still have some ground to make up according to NASCAR America analysts Parker Kligerman and Landon Cassill.

Kligerman puts some of the blame for the lack of performance during the first half of the regular season on the Optical Scanning Station.

“Some of these teams, especially Hendrick Motorsports going to the new Chevy body, were maybe caught a little off guard with it and how they were able to maximize the things they need do in that inspection system to make sure their cars are producing the most downforce, to therefore create the most speed,” Kligerman said.

Cassill believes their biggest handicap could be a lack of experience among the current crop of drivers.

“We’ve talked about Hendrick’s struggles as a team at the beginning of the season,” Cassill said. “Well, is it driver or cars because the average age of drivers at Hendrick Motorsports this year is lower than we’ve ever seen in that organization, so they definitely have less experience, with the exception of Jimmie Johnson, than the company has ever had.”

Johnson is 42 years old, Alex Bowman is 25, Elliott is 22 and William Byron is 20, making the average age at the start of the 2018 season 27.0.

At the beginning of the 2003 season, the average age of Hendrick Motorsports drivers was 35.8 with Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Joe Nemechek and Terry Labonte behind the wheel.

In 2008, Johnson and Gordon were joined by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears and the average age was 31.3.

Five years later in 2013, Mears was replaced with Kasey Kahne and the average age rose to 37.0.

For more, watch the video above.