Where Are They Now? Catching up with Casey Mears

Leave a comment

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.”

****************************

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.”

****************************

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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Justin Haley wins rain-shortened Daytona for first Cup Series victory

11 Comments

After leading just one lap, Justin Haley was declared the winner of Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, giving him a win in his third career Cup start and providing one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history.

The win is the first for Spire Motorsports and comes in its first year of existence. It did not have a top-20 finish in its first 17 races. It’s best finish was 22nd with Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500.

Haley, 20, is a native of Winamac, Indiana, and drives full-time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series. He’s only the fourth driver in the modern-era to win within their first three career Cup starts. He’s the first part-time driver to win in Cup since Brian Vickers at New Hampshire in 2013.

Haley inherited the lead under caution when Kurt Busch pit after NASCAR initially declared they would go back to green a lap later. But the red flag was displayed for lightning in the area, stopping the race with 33 laps to go.

Haley was in position to inherit the lead after an 18-car crash with 43 laps to go.

“It’s absolutely a blessing,” Haley told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty incredible to have so many great people around me that have given me this opportunity to come to this level and the stage we’re performing on. … I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega. It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

Following Alex Bowman‘s win last weekend at Chicagoland, this is the first time two drivers have earned their first Cup wins in consecutive races since Casey Mears and Martin Truex Jr. in 2007.

“The stars aligned,” Haley said. “I didn’t ever think I was going to get redemption back from last year at Daytona when I got the Xfinity win taken from me.”

Haley crossed the finish line first in last year’s July Xfinity race at Daytona, but was disqualified after it was ruled he went below the yellow lines on the bottom of the track to make a last-second pass.

Sunday’s top five was completed by William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Joey Logano

STAGE 2 WINNER: Austin Dillon

More: Click here for results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Ty Dillon earned his first career Cup top five in his 108th start … Corey LaJoie finished sixth with his first career top 10 in his 75th Cup start … Matt DiBenedetto placed eighth for his second top 10 of the season … Rookie Matt Tifft finished ninth for his first career top 10 in his 18th Cup start.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez were eliminated in a six-car incident with 18 laps to go in Stage 2. It began when Harvick got a run in the tri-oval and turned Keselowski into the outside wall … Notable drivers in the 18-car wreck included Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

NOTABLE: The lap Justin Haley led in order to win is the only lap he’s led in Cup. The last driver to win a race with only one career lap led was Brad Keselowski at Talladega in 2009 … Haley is the 20th driver to earn his first Cup Series win at Daytona.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “They keep on asking you how you feel and I can’t do anything about it. If we go racing, we go racing. If it rains out, it rains out and we can’t do anything about it. At the end of the day, I was just waiting.” – Justin Haley

WHAT’S NEXT: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 13 on NBCSN

Check back for more

Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

Leave a comment

Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

 and on Facebook

Daytona Winners & Losers

Leave a comment

Each week, we’ll look at those who had success and those who didn’t. Here’s this week’s look back at the Clash and Daytona 500 qualifying:

Winners

Jimmie Johnson — While his Clash victory doesn’t count as an official Cup win, he was back in Victory Lane for the first time since 2017.

Souvenir collectors — There was a lot of sheet metal damaged in the 17-car crash just before the rain ended the Clash.

Tyler Reddick & Casey Mears — Both guaranteed starting spots for their unchartered cars in Daytona 500 qualifying. They won’t have to worry about where they finish in their qualifying race Thursday.

Hendrick Motorsports — Its cars swept the front row for the Daytona 500 with William Byron on the pole and Alex Bowman second and then Jimmie Johnson wins the Clash.

Losers

Jimmie Johnson — Did Johnson’s contact with Paul Menard open the door for Menard to pay him back? If so, the pay back could be worse. This happened in a non-points race, should Menard repay Johnson, it would likely happen in a points race.

Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman & Kevin Harvick — Involved in two wrecks in two days. Tough way to start Speedweeks.

Fabricators — 21 Cup cars were involved in accidents in the first two days of Speedweeks. A lot of good work was destroyed. 

Bootie Barker to serve as crew chief for Joe Gibbs Racing ARCA team

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
1 Comment

Joe Gibbs Racing has hired former Cup crew chief Bootie Barker to lead its ARCA program and work with driver Riley Herbst, who finished fifth in the standings last year as a rookie.

“This is an incredible opportunity for me and I am incredibly grateful to join the team here at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Barker said in a statement from the team. “I am just getting to know Riley and from what I can tell, he is a great kid with an unlimited amount of potential. We obviously want to win the championship this year, but we have a goal of improving each and every day.”

Barker had been with Germain Racing from the second half of the 2009 season to last year. Among the drivers he worked with were Casey Mears and Ty Dillon. Barker first was a Cup crew chief in 2003 with Dave Blaney.

“I am super excited to have “Bootie” Barker come on board with the No. 18 team this year,” Herbst said in a statement from the team. “He is going to bring a tremendous amount of experience that this team can use to assist our program. It is amazing to see what he has accomplished over his career and I am thrilled to work alongside of him. Heading into my second year, I believe that we will be competing for the ARCA Series title in 2018.”

Joe Gibbs Racing stated that Shannon Rursch, who had been Herbst’s crew chief last year, will transition to a new role as its ARCA/Development Program Advisor. He will work alongside Herbst and Barker on the ARCA program and also work with JGR development driver Ty Gibbs.

 and on Facebook