When Germain Racing rolled into Las Vegas, they were looking to make headway on intermediate tracks, which has proved challenging for the team over the course of previous seasons. After turning in a top 10 finish at Daytona and a 14th at Phoenix, Casey Mears and his GEICO crew were anxious to try their hand at the first mile and a half track of the season.
On Thursday, Mears and his team took part in a one-day NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After making several changes to the racecar, they ended up 25th on the chart at the close of the four-hour session. When practice got underway on Friday, the #13 GEICO Chevrolet SS sat 26th on the board in opening practice before later qualifying 30th. Saturday started slow when Mears wrapped up the morning practice session 28th, but after making a few adjustments, he was able to lay down a fast-lap in Happy Hour that saw him fly up the chart to end up 10th when practice concluded. While it was just a single lap that sent him to the top of the board, the car appeared to be better in race trim as the team prepared for Sunday.
The green flag turned the field loose on Sunday afternoon under bright Las Vegas sunshine. As the Kobalt 400 got underway, Mears and his #13 GEICO Chevrolet SS quickly moved up six positions to 24th by the second lap. However, it was not long before track conditions began to change and he found himself battling a loose racecar as early as lap 13. "I'm loose in the center and loose off. We may need to put some wedge in it," Mears reported to crew chief Bootie Barker on lap 15. Just two laps later, a much needed yellow flag flew for fluid on the track, allowing Mears to bring his #13 GEICO Chevrolet SS to the attention of his pit crew, who promptly provided him with four tires, fuel and two rounds of wedge. After restarting 27th on lap 22, he was up to 24th by lap 31 when he reported, "It's still really loose. I have to be on the white line to make it turn."
He would make an appearance in the top 15 and intermittently turn in lap times comparable with the top five and top 10, but spent most of his afternoon battling an ill-handling racecar that caused more frustration than pleasure. Still attempting to salvage a solid finish, Barker instructed Mears to stay out and take the wave-around when the caution came out late in the race in an attempt to ultimately rejoin the lead lap. With just 42 to go, Mears restarted 24th, but was short on fuel. With the Vegas strip as a backdrop, it seemed reasonable to take a gamble on a possible late-race caution that would allow Mears to fuel his GEICO Chevy without losing time to the field. Unfortunately, Lady Luck betrayed the Germain Racing team and Mears was forced to take a trip down pit road under green flag conditions with just 11 laps remaining in the race, dashing any hopes of a strong finish. When the checkered flag was displayed after 267 laps of racing, Casey Mears and his #13 GEICO Chevrolet SS were shown 28th on the scoring tower.
"We really struggled today and we just missed it," Mears said after the race. "The guys worked really hard, but it seemed like every time we touched the car during a pit stop it became more challenging. Around the midway point of the race, my rear grip got better, but we continued to struggle. The new package has been tricky and because we had an issue with handling, I had a hard time trying to run other grooves of the racetrack." He continued, "We started out the season strong, so there are no heads hanging on the GEICO team. We'll continue to work hard and now look to Bristol where we enjoy racing and have done well in the past, including starting on the Pole in August 2012. Next week is a new beginning."
While the team took a hit in the points, they also had points in the bank after Daytona and Phoenix. Mears entered the Kobalt 400 11th in points, but even with today's 28th place finish, Mears still sits inside the top 20 and is tied with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, for 16th.
Mears and the Germain Racing team will now head to Bristol, TN, where they will beat and bang on the World's Fastest Half-Mile.