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Where Are They Now? Catching up with Casey Mears

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There are certain days most people never forget: their anniversaries, their children’s birthdays and for race car drivers, their first win.

These days Casey Mears may live 2,100 miles away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he was there in spirit for last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

Mears won NASCAR’s longest race in 2007. He was in the right place at the right time, taking the lead from Denny Hamlin late in the race and hanging on for the final six laps – the only laps he led all day – for the win.

Casey Mears celebrates after winning the 2007 Coca-Cola 600. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“It was definitely the high point of my career, for sure,” Mears told NBC Sports. “I remember everything about that night.

“The one thing – and it’s not a regret – but it’s unfortunate that it ended up being a fuel-mileage race because we had a very fast car that night and ran inside the top 10 and top five the majority of the night.

“We probably weren’t going to win it, but we had a good shot at a top five and were going to be in the hunt. (Crew chief Darian Grubb) made a great call and we won the race, which was amazing for several different reasons.

“I mean, obviously winning in Charlotte, the 600 is the longest race, winning on Memorial Day weekend, which is a huge week for my family and then also being sponsored by the National Guard at that time. It was just a big night.”

While the 600 was his only Cup win, Mears also recalls several other key moments of his career, including runner-up finishes in 2006 at the Daytona 500 and later that year at Kansas.

“That night at Charlotte was a huge part of my career but some of the stuff that I feel like we earned on speed which was really cool were, we sat on the pole at Indy, did well at places like Chicago, Pocono and Michigan, being competitive and leading laps at places like Atlanta and Homestead, going back and forth with Tony Stewart at Atlanta one year.

“Some of those big moments in my career weren’t necessarily the only parts that stand out. The moments I remember the most were when we had competitive race cars and when we were on the verge of getting those wins and getting real close.”

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Mears lives in the Phoenix area with his family. It’s also where he met his wife, Trisha.

“We always said that when the NASCAR things slowed down, we’d like to be back out this way,” Mears told NBC Sports. “So we picked up and moved the kids and came out to Phoenix. We’re loving it, and I’m really enjoying spending a lot of time with them. I’ve also been fortunate to reconnect with some of my off-road racing buddies since I’ve been out here.”

This is the off-road truck Casey Mears co-drove in last year’s NORRA Mexican Baja 1000. (Photo courtesy Casey Mears)

Mears may be gone from NASCAR, but he’s still taking part in other forms of racing part-time, including off-road competition like the NORRA Mexican Baja 1000 last year with Lynn Chenoweth. Casey’s father Roger drove for Chenoweth back in the 1960s and 1970s, and also is part of Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks Series.

“I also hang out with (NBC IndyCar analyst and former racer Paul Tracy) and drive his Lamborghini sports car, just taking it on the track and sliding around, just having fun,” Mears said. “If opportunities come around, I’d love to race some more.

“I really, really enjoyed racing out in the desert, doing off road stuff. I’d also love to get involved in some sports car stuff as well if there’s an opportunity.

“I love what I’m being able to do right now, just dabble. Playing in Robby’s series, that’s been a blast and picking up random off road, desert opportunities. But racing’s racing, it always boils down to the dollars and cents and sponsors or finding some guy that just wants to go racing and spend some money and have fun. It’s few and far between these days.”

Even though Mears has moved on from NASCAR, he admits he misses it.

“I was fortunate to get to do it for about 15 years,” Mears said. “I lived that life and it really becomes almost the opposite. Your family and friends end up being all the people on the road and people at home become extended friends and family, you’re on the road so much.

“For sure I miss a lot of the people that you saw week in and week out. I definitely miss the competition. I don’t think I’ll ever not miss being in a race car because, like so many others in the sport, I didn’t really get to go out on my own terms.

“For so many people, the sport decides it for you before you’re ready to decide not to do it. I think I’ll always have that desire to want to get in a car again.

“But the one thing that helped me make this decision to move to Phoenix is that I didn’t want to be one of those guys that lingered in the sport either. I didn’t want to be with a back marker program and not be able to be competitive and that’s kind of probably what would have happened. I would have stuck around and would have gotten into something I probably really didn’t need to be in.”

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Mears made 489 career Cup starts, his last full-time season being in 2016. He came back for a start last year for Germain Racing in the season-opening Daytona 500. He started 40th and finished 40th, involved in a crash just past the halfway point.

Mears also made 107 Xfinity Series starts, earning his lone series win in 2016 at Chicagoland Speedway.

He still keeps his hand in NASCAR somewhat, just not on a steering wheel. He does promotional work for Phoenix Raceway and visits his former chums each time NASCAR comes to town.

Casey Mears, right, remains good friends with a number of his former teammates, including seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

He also keeps in regular contact with close friends and former teammates and bosses including Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Chip Ganassi, Rick Hendrick, Bob Germain and Doug Barnette.

But moving on from being a race car driver, pretty much the only thing he had known for more than 30 years since being a kid growing up in Bakersfield, California, gave Mears pause.

“This move really forced me to figure out what’s next in life,” he said. “I’m 42 years old and although I’ve done well and been very fortunate, but I need to do something.”

He’s looking at a variety of business opportunities in the Phoenix area, primarily in the automotive industry.

“I feel very fortunate to have the career that I’ve had in the sport,” Mears said. “I drove for a lot of real good teams and programs and learned a lot from a lot of people.

“The people I got to race with and learn from just from the business standpoint is going to help me later in my career with whatever’s next. I had some great opportunities and will always miss it, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to the future and what’s next.”

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Sonoma could be great opportunity for Cup drivers without wins

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Who is ready for another first-time winner this season in the Cup Series?

A poll taken of the Cup garage would probably bring back everyone but the six drivers who have hogged Victory Lane through the first 15 races of the season.

Divided among just three teams – Joe Gibbs Racing (nine wins), Team Penske (five) and Hendrick Motorsports (one) – variety among teams has not been in the cards so far.

Enter Sonoma Raceway.

NASCAR makes its first trip to a road course this season with the California circuit, which has been reconfigured for its 50th anniversary with the re-introduction of “The Carousel.”

Sonoma may be a prime opportunity for a winless driver to break through to Victory Lane, according to history.

In 12 of the last 16 seasons, dating back to 2002, the driver who visited victory lane in Sonoma was doing so for the first time that year.

Before 2002, it was done only four times in the track’s first 13 years of holding Cup races, with all four occurring before 1998, when the Cup Series stopped running on the “Carousel.”

Drivers in the field this year who will try to repeat history are Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer.

Harvick holds the distinction of being the most recent driver to get his first win of the season at Sonoma. He pulled it off in 2017.

Should he repeat the feat, it would be his first win since November’s Texas playoff race (17 races) and be Stewart-Haas Racing’s first of the year. He’d also join Ricky Rudd (1989, 2002) as the only drivers to achieve that twice.

Drivers who earned first win of the year at Sonoma

Event Date    Race Winner
6/25/2017    Kevin Harvick
6/26/2016    Tony Stewart (only win that year)
6/28/2015    Kyle Busch
6/23/2013    Martin Truex Jr. (only win)
6/24/2012    Clint Bowyer
6/26/2011    Kurt Busch
6/21/2009    Kasey Kahne
6/24/2007    Juan Pablo Montoya (only win)
6/25/2006    Jeff Gordon
6/26/2005    Tony Stewart
6/22/2003    Robby Gordon
6/23/2002    Ricky Rudd (only win)
5/4/1997    Mark Martin
5/16/1993    Geoff Bodine (only win)
6/7/1992    Ernie Irvan
6/11/1989    Ricky Rudd (only win)

Podcast: Robby Gordon still has a lot to offer NASCAR

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Robby Gordon ran his last NASCAR race just over six-and-a-half years ago, but he still believes he can have an impact.

On the first 2019 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Gordon told Nate Ryan he believes he could still win in stock car racing’s premier series.

Gordon has three victories in the Cup series. The first of those came at New Hampshire in 2001. Two seasons later, he swept the road courses with a win in Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

Might he have unfinished business as a NASCAR driver? Gordon did not rule out that option.

“A road course could interest me,” Gordon said on the podcast. “The Roval would be a lot of fun. Today, I’d still be top of the board when it came to road racing. I think that comes down to experience and being able to control a car, and that’s exactly what my (Stadium Super Trucks) will do for young drivers.”

But the series itself – one that he owns and in which he drives – might be his biggest contribution to NASCAR.

On the podcast, Gordon discussed the developmental potential of off-road racing. He and Jimmie Johnson both cut their teeth in the Mickey Thompson series and he sees it as a valid path. The SST series can replicate that experience.

To illustrate his point, Gordon referenced Sheldon Creed. Finishing fifth in the SST points standings in the series’ inaugural season of 2013 at the age of 16, Creed improved to second the next season and then won back-to-back championships in 2015/2016.

Creed’s move to ARCA produced a championship in his first full season of competition in 2018. In turn, that led to a ride with GMS Racing in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

“The experience that off-road teaches you is more of a car control experience,” Gordon said of Creed’s success. “Jimmie Johnson is another perfect example. He’s able to modulate his throttle and understand how to put power to the ground.”

To listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, click on the embed above, or you can download the episodes at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Bump & Run: Favorite Bristol memories

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What is your favorite Bristol memory?

Kyle Petty: Watching Harry Gant show those high school boys in Grand National/Busch series how to get it done at Bristol. We would sit on the hill on the backstretch and cheer him on!

Parker Kligerman: My first race there was in 2010. We wrecked in qualifying at the spring race because of a mechanical issue and missed the race. I was doing a part-time schedule in NXS & had good runs but failed to get a top 10. So when we came back in August I really wanted/needed a good run and we had an awesome race and finished in the top 10 for my first time. This was the start of many good races for myself there including second place in trucks in 2012. … Some of my favorite memories growing up were the onboard cameras looking backward at the cars following where at Bristol you could see how much undulation the car was going through and how close they would get to each other’s bumpers. It was awesome and really made me want to race there one day. I miss the old track and think I would have been really good on it. 

Nate Ryan: The first night race I ever covered there, when Jimmie Johnson flipped off Robby Gordon, an angry Elliott Sadler punched the side of an ambulance, and Ward Burton threw his heel pads at Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then said he wished he would have had “something else to have shot” through his window. Oh, and Jeff Gordon bumped Rusty Wallace aside with two laps remaining to end a 31-race winless streak. All that happened on Aug. 24, 2002.

Dustin Long: The 1999 night race when Dale Earnhardt “rattled the cage” of Terry Labonte and spun him out of the lead. What was so memorable wasn’t the incident but the reaction. Several minutes after the race ended, they played the radio call of the final lap on the track’s pa system and the fans — it seemed more than half were still in the stands at the time — booed the moment Earnhardt’s hit wrecked Labonte. Incredible atmosphere.

Daniel McFadin: Covering my first race there last August. The track sneaks up on you, as there’s not much in the town to suggest one of NASCAR’s most famous tracks is located there. It suddenly appears around a bend as you approach it. Then walking up out of the tunnel in the infield was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Bristol is a wonder.

Dan Beaver: The 1996 Night Race. Until this year, that race always fell on or near my father’s birthday. That year the race landed on his birthday and I got a chance to take him for our first trip to a track that had always been one of our favorites. 

We know who the Big 3 are. Who would be your pick to make it the Big 4 right now?

Kyle Petty: There is no Big 4 … and it’s too late for someone to join the Party. Harvick, Busch and Truex are in a league of their own. Someone would have to win 40% of the remaining races (5) for me to consider them a part of this group.

Parker Kligerman: Brad Keselowski. I’ve been saying it for months, that the 2 car is the best at executing and using strategy to steal track position from faster cars. As of this time, barring disaster, they are the fourth best team. 

Nate Ryan: If forced to pick a fourth who will race for the championship, it would be Kurt Busch based on his recent results and veteran experience. But after Michigan, the separation between Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and the rest of the field seems as wide as ever. There is little confidence in picking a fourth driver to join them.

Dustin Long: Although he hasn’t won this year, I’d make Kurt Busch as the fourth based on recent performance. His sixth-place finish at Michigan was his fifth consecutive top-10 result.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Chase Elliott. His win at Watkins Glen is one of four consecutive top 10s. My midseason pick, Kyle Larson, has basically disappeared since his runner-up finish at Chicagoland with just two top 10s in the last six races.

Dan Beaver: I don’t think anyone belongs in their league or is likely to get there. The way the playoffs work, someone will join them with a theoretical chance for the championship at Homestead, but no one is going to seriously challenge. 

What is a racing event that you’ve never attended but is on your bucket list and why?

Kyle Petty: Isle Of Man TT races! If you know what it is, you know why … nuff said.

Parker Kligerman: 24 Hours of Le Mans. Apparently it’s an incredible festival and there is just something sacred about that race. Though I don’t want to just attend but definitely race in it … one day … one day. 

Nate Ryan: The 24 Hours of Le Mans because of its history, tradition and fan appeal. Having written about the race so many times from afar (through advance stories about American teams preparing for the spectacle), I’d love to see it in person.

Dustin Long: Growing up in the Midwest and attending numerous sprint car races with my dad, I’ve always wanted to attend the Knoxville Nationals and experience what makes that event special.

Daniel McFadin: I could say the Daytona 500, but I’ll go all out and say Speedweeks. Give me a RV and a prime spot in the Daytona infield for two weeks. Seems like heaven.

Dan Beaver: The Hell Tour: DIRTcar’s Summer Nationals that feature almost 30 races in a span of 30 days during the summer. It may well be racing’s last true endurance event.

Casey Mears likely to split 2018 between NASCAR, Global Rallycross and Stadium Super Trucks

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Casey Mears still plans to compete part-time in NASCAR in 2018, but he’s also looking to expand his racing horizons.

The veteran NASCAR driver told The Checkered Flag recently that he also expects to race in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, as well as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series.

“Right now I’m talking to a few NASCAR programs to do maybe limited stuff,” Mears told The Checkered Flag. “I don’t have anything that would be a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.

“I’ve been speaking with Robby Gordon in the Stadium Super Truck program. I think that’s a really cool up-and-coming-series and I’d definitely like to be involved with the GRC. It looks like a lot of fun.

“I think there’s enough difference between all those that it could leave room for doing a bit of both so we’ll see how it works out.”

Mears did not race in the Cup Series in 2017, having lost his ride at the end of 2016 to Ty Dillon in the No. 13 Geico Chevy. He has amassed 488 starts and one win (2007 Coca-Cola 600) in his Cup career, along with 13 top fives and 51 top 10s.

However, he did compete on a part-time basis in 2017 in the Xfinity Series, making 14 starts, with season-best finishes of ninth place at both Richmond and Road America. He also has 107 Xfinity starts with one win, 16 top fives and 34 top 10s.