WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Ten-year old Layla Popoff was ready for the green flag. Lined up alongside NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Casey Mears for a race through Legoland's intricate Miniland creations on Monday afternoon, Popoff's brick car jumped off the starting line. She led flag-to-flag and claimed an intricately constructed Lego trophy. Mears' car "somehow" ended up in a pile of (Lego) bricks near the finish line, but he was the first to congratulate his competitor Popoff, who is battling multiple serious medical issues and was granted the chance to race Mears thanks in part to Legoland and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "So many times people are going through rough times, but the kids they seem to handle it so well," said Mears , emphasizing the best part of his day was spending time with Popoff. "It always surprises me when you meet a young kid like this and they are so positive. She's got a lot of drive, you can tell. She's very competitive. She was telling me she was going to win right out of the gate and she did." For her part, Popoff was genuinely excited to meet Mears . They spoke, laughed and kidded each other about the competition. After their race, Mears took his new friend inside the Lego display nearby -- a huge new Lego re-creation of Daytona International Speedway recently updated to reflect the Daytona Rising improvements and enhancements fans will once again see at the July 2 Coke Zero 400 night race there (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.) RELATED: Daytona rises even higher from beach sand In fact, Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile was also at hand at Legoland and impressed with the new model of the track. He reports that the facility is ready for its second 2016 NASCAR date. "How impressive and to see what they've done here (at Legoland) is such a true representation of Daytona International Speedway ," Wile said. "It took 2,100 man hours to build and they spoke with our team to make sure they had the right photos to work off of. They really wanted it to be an accurate representation. I would argue they did a good job." As for the upcoming Daytona races, "We're putting the finishing touches on it," Wile said. "The great thing about our facility is it is used so much. We've been very busy. But we did a walk-through over the weekend and the place looks great. We're real excited to have our race fans back for the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola. The expectation is it's one of the biggest events of the year. Overall we're ready and we can't wait for people to get here." Mears added one more touch to the Legoland Daytona on Monday. With a large audience watching, Mears placed a miniature version of his No. 13 GEICO car in Daytona's Victory Lane at the Lego display. It's a place he's visited before as the first full-time NASCAR driver to win the Rolex 24 (in 2006). It's a place he'd like to visit again soon. Say, July 2. Daytona International Speedway is one of Mears' best tracks. He finished runner-up in the 2006 Daytona 500 (only weeks after winning that Rolex 24). And he has eight top-11 finishes at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, including five consecutive before February's Daytona 500 when he placed 32nd. "Daytona has been a real good track for us, and the road courses as well," Mears said, noting this week's stop at the Sonoma road course in his home state of California. RELATED: Daytona wins sports facility of the year honors "It's been a rough year for us in general as far as results go, but I feel like our team is as prepared as it ever has been. It's probably the best season we've had in terms of having fast race cars, knowing and understanding what we need to do to be fast, but we're just not getting results for whatever reason. It's just been a lot of random things. "I'm looking forward to the second half of the season and showing people what we can do. I think Daytona and Sonoma are good places to show that." Mears has a pair of top-10 finishes at the Northern California course in Sonoma , a best of fifth in 2008. His best-ever road course showing is a fourth place at Watkins Glen in 2004. This week, however, runner-up to Popoff was as good as it gets. She said her family is planning to make its first-ever NASCAR race at Daytona in two weeks. "I'm a fan and I like racing," Popoff said, her face breaking into a huge grin. "And usually, I always cheer for Casey Mears ." Which clearly shows Mears has won already.
Given the sometimes fickle nature of team and sponsorship alignment, Casey Mears counts himself as one of the lucky ones. He enters his sixth full season with the Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet, with GEICO backing intact and a contract that will keep him in the fold through 2018. With continuity and job security seemingly locked in, Mears and Co. can focus on the essentials -- building speed and making incremental gains in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. "We all have common goals of getting better and getting stronger," Mears said during last week's Chevrolet portion of the preseason Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. "If we don't do that, things can always change in motorsports, but the thing it allows us to do is look internally at where we can get better. … From a driver's standpoint, from a crew chief's standpoint, a team standpoint -- if you know there might possibly be change, it makes it easier to point the finger than go out and find the result, if that makes sense. … "Now that we have these three years together, when there's an issue or we're not fast, we're seeking an answer. We're going to figure out how to make that work because we know these are the people we're working with for the next three years. That's where the positive thing is." Mears says the goals for 2016 are modest ones: an improvement on intermediate-sized tracks that make up the bulk of the Sprint Cup schedule, and a bump into the top 20 in the series standings after finishes of 23rd, 26th and 24th the previous three years. One of the building blocks is the continuation of a technical alliance between the single-car Germain operation and Richard Childress Racing that began in 2014. Mears said the No. 13 team would continue to receive chassis, Earnhardt Childress Racing engines and technical support, while Germain will build its own car bodies. An RCR technical alliance has proven to be a valuable asset for single-car teams in the past. Just last season, Childress-affiliated Furniture Row Racing pushed Martin Truex Jr . all the way to the championship round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, potentially stoking hopes for a similar postseason fate for Germain. "It would be hard to really counter what Furniture Row did last year," Mears said. "Quite honestly, they were the strongest team out of the organization and for one reason is, they have an extremely large budget, they were able to take what RCR offered and fine-tune it and do some things they thought would help on their own as well. We're more in a position to where if we can equal what they're doing or compete and beat some of these guys, we've done a really, really good job with what we're getting. From our perspective, we're drawing from those guys. We're getting all we can from there." The Barney Visser-owned Furniture Row organization changed manufacturers in the offseason, forming a new alliance with Toyota stalwart Joe Gibbs Racing for 2016. With the No. 78 team leaving the Chevrolet fold, could the ripple effect could be a power vacuum within the RCR alliance? "That remains to be seen," Mears said. "Obviously, they were a good source of feedback and information last season, but I think RCR has an extremely talented group behind them and really talented drivers. I don't see them really missing a beat there. We'll know more as the season starts, but for sure, they were a value and they definitely brought something to the table." For now, Mears hopes staying power within the team -- a relative rarity in modern stock-car racing -- can pay off. Crew chief Bootie Barker also returns for a sixth consecutive season, aiming to help the team make strides with a new reduced-downforce aerodynamic package this year. "The details are right, the playbook's making sense," Mears said. "We're repeating things going back to tracks and starting there where we left off and gaining, getting better. That's one thing I'm really looking forward to this year. Obviously, there's a slight change in the rules, but outside of that, we have a really good history now to look back on and good places to start."
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes " SHOP: Mears gear Casey Mears revealed his throwback No. 13 paint scheme for the Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET Sept. 4, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Darlington Raceway on Tuesday via "NASCAR America." Mears joins the likes of Kevin Harvick , Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Danica Patrick , etc., who have all unveiled throwback schemes for the Labor Day weekend event. The scheme pays tribute to the late Smokey Yunick -- a colorful and pivotal mechanic in stock car racing who served as crew chief for No. 13 drivers Curtis Thomas, Johnny Rutherford and Mario Andretti. In his 10-year career, Yunick earned 22 premier series wins as a crew chief and was crew chief to Herb Thomas' Cup series championships in 1951 and 1953. Mears said he's excited to be running the Smokey Yunick tribute scheme on his GEICO Chevrolet. "Out of all the history of NASCAR I'd have to say he’s probably one of the top five most innovative people in the sport," Mears said of Yunick. "We feel fortunate to be able to run a paint scheme that has so much meaning and cool history in NASCAR. Hopefully, we can go to Darlington and do a good job with that car in the Bojangles' Southern 500 and Smokey's family will be proud." Smokey's daughter Trish is already proud. "My dad loved racing at Darlington, tire problems and gnats alike," said Trish Yunick. "It's so special to us to have him remembered in this way. The Germain Racing car looks great. I look forward to seeing the black-and-gold 13 on the track again. I am thrilled that Smokey's legacy is getting a chance to be in front of the next generation of NASCAR fans and hope it encourages renewed interest in his story." Yunick was crew chief to many drivers with many different numbers -- but in line with his bold attitude, the No. 13 was the number he ran to be unconventional and a bit provocative. "Nobody used number 13, it had no sponsors, and it was gold and black," said Mario Andretti, who raced the Chevrolet for Yunick in 1966. "It was an attention-grabber. That car, with Curtis Turner driving, was on pole in 1967 when I won the Daytona 500 . ... The stories behind that car, including stories about Smokey and Curtis Turner are worth revisiting." Germain Racing team owner Bob Germain Jr. said Darlington's throwback weekend is becoming a highlight of the racing season, showcasing NASCAR's roots. "Smokey Yunick's famous number 13 Chevrolets are part of those roots," Germain added. "He raced many car numbers, but it's my understanding he enjoyed the mysterious or daring nature of the 13 number. Our fans have really spoken up on Twitter asking us, GEICO, Casey and Bootie to race this paint scheme." 10:36 ]
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Casey Mears says he and the Germain Racing No. 13 team are concentrating their efforts only on the remaining five races of 2016 and can't speak about next year. "Not at the moment," Mears said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway . "Right now we're just focused on what we talked about at the beginning of the season. Focus on the remainder of this year first and foremost." Mears , 38, has one victory in 483 career starts at NASCAR's top level, capturing the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . He has a best points finish of 14th in 2006. Rumors have Germain opting to replace Mears next season, possibly with NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Ty Dillon . Dillon's Richard Childress Racing organization has a technical alliance with Germain. Geico, the No. 13 team's primary sponsor, is signed through 2018. In many cases, sponsor and driver contracts run concurrently. "As I know more, we can talk about it," Mears said. "But right now we're just focused on getting through this weekend." Mears enters Sunday's Hellmann’s 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) 28th in points. He has five top-10 finishes in 26 careers starts at the 2.66-mile track.
Driver will return to the No. 13 Chevrolet in 2016 Casey Mears has signed a contract extension to keep him with Germain Racing for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Mears , 37, has been with Germain Racing since late in the 2010 season. During that time, he has one top-five finish and five top-10 finishes, all of which have come at restrictor-plate tracks. "I'm really happy to announce that Casey Mears is back in the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS next year," team owner Bob Germain Jr. said in a release provided by the team. "He's been an integral part of the team's growth and success over the past 5 years and I am confident he can continue to help us move forward and reach our goals. We've come a long way as a team, and assembled a group of extremely talented people who enjoy working together. As the team owner, that's really the thing I'm most proud of. And, of course, the long term support of GEICO has given us the stability we needed to make it all happen." In his fifth full-time season with Germain, Mears is currently 20th in the Sprint Cup Series point standings. "It's really exciting to drive the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS again in 2016," Mears said in a team release. "I think that it's been a long time in the making here at Germain Racing , being competitive at the Cup level. It's been a long process to get the GEICO program to where we are now. We are finally starting to see some of the benefits from all the hard work from the last four or five years. I'm very excited to carry on the GEICO relationship and to be a part of Germain Racing 's continued growth." In his 13 seasons in the sport's top series, Mears has one win, which came in 2007 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600 with Hendrick Motorsports . FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Podcast discusses dune buggies, spirit animals, run-in with Marcos Ambrose Casey Mears -- the man, the myth, the legend -- joined us on the "Dirty Air Podcast" this week. The last time the guys from the "Dirty Air" hung out with the driver of the No. 13 Geico Chevrolet it was out in the sand dunes of Brawley, California, during the NASCAR Goes West extravaganza. RELATED: Watch video of that event here We covered a lot of topics with Casey while he was on the show, from spirit animals and contract extensions, to Jimmie Johnson and ice cream flavors. We gave you just a taste of the full conversation in the video above. You should definitely check out the rest -- we also get into a slightly heated debate about somebody who is chasing something ... you'll have to tune in for more. • Log on to the iTunes Store and subscribe • Or watch the full replay on YouTube You can also listen right here on NASCAR.com using this sweet widget! We will see you next week back in the pack here in the "Dirty Air."
Greg Biffle and Jeffrey Earnhardt make contact and collects Casey Mears at Talladega Superspeedway.
RELATED: Paint Scheme Preview for Auto Club " Power Rankings post-Phoenix BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- As the colorful and massive NASCAR haulers roll into the California hustle and bustle this week for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway , the small town of Bakersfield -- about a two-and-half hour Interstate drive northwest -- will proudly perk up too. Its own racing contributions will be on full display in the NASCAR garages, its latest crop of high-talent exports ready to roll at the speedway. The 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick , veteran Cup driver Casey Mears and XFINTY driver Ryan Reed -- all Bakersfield bred -- will suit up to compete this weekend. And of course, most of Casey Mears ' famous racing family -- including his dad, Roger, a Baja 1000 and Pikes Peak Hill Climb multi-champion and uncle Rick, a four-time Indy 500 winner -- hail from this humble hamlet, too. NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Ron Hornaday's hometown, Palmdale, is an hour southeast of Bakersfield's oil fields and almond orchards. He raced in the area, too. This is a blue collar, hard-working and weekend-loving region. It's the West Coast's down-home version of "middle America" -- hours from the glitz of Hollywood, the tech heads of San Francisco and the famous beaches of San Diego. And yet it is ironic how the slow pace of Bakersfield daily life is eclipsed by the high-speed distinctions of its many racing natives. They have won a Daytona 500 , a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, Indy 500 rings, IndyCar championships, a Rolex 24 watch, Pikes Peak Hill Climb titles and various USAC crowns. There may not be a higher concentration of this wide-range of racing success in another single hometown in the country. "For years, Bakersfield was kind of the butt of the jokes in L.A. on television with the late night shows," Rick Mears said. "It was a running joke, so that always made it a little sweeter when you put it (Bakersfield) on the map a little bit and could kind of rub it in and say, 'Hey, what are you talking about? Bakersfield's not so bad.' "There is a sense of pride to be able to accomplish those kinds of things and being from there. And now Kevin Harvick doing a similar deal in NASCAR, it's really cool." While surfing -- the water or the Web -- may characterize other parts of the Golden State, racing is the definitive brand here. Go-kart tracks, short tracks, Kern County Raceway Park, Bakersfield Speedway. They are typically packed with spectators, and as history has proven, perhaps the "next great thing" behind a wheel. The former -- and famous -- Mesa Marin Speedway track here has only recently been leveled and used as foundation for a modern sports complex of softball fields. For decades, the birthplace of NASCAR's truck series was a West Coast hub and showcase for the region's racing talent. "I wouldn't say the racing community is huge in Bakersfield, but for some reason it's definitely developed quite a few racers that have gone on to be successful," said Casey Mears , driver of the No. 13 Geico Chevrolet in the Cup Series. "I think everybody in Bakersfield is aware of motorsports and aware of what my family has done, and with Harvick winning the championship [in 2014], I'm sure that was huge. "There's definitely a following but I wouldn't say the racing community itself is large. It's just those that are involved are passionate about it." The first family of Bakersfield Bakersfield residents certainly know Casey Mears grandparents, Bill and Mae Mears , as "beloved regulars." The two ride their scooters around the downtown riverfront on their way to a nice lunch at one of their favorite haunts. The actual food is truly the least of their pursuits. This is social exercise. The Mears are easy to spot because of their wide smiles, friendly handshakes and all the people eager to greet them -- either to share some stories or listen to better ones. The couple is bona fide Bakersfield celebrity -- their offspring some of racing's greatest talents. So it is oh-so perfect that these two -- married 70 years now -- get all around town via scooters. And every so often, Bill says with a laugh, Mae will make a run right by him, speeding along the way just to keep things interesting. Their celebrated racing offspring definitely get their competitive edge and need for speed honestly. The Mears' loved Bakersfield from the moment they came upon it in 1955 -- only a couple years after a major earthquake in the region. "We came out here and saw how nice it was, so we went back home (to Kansas) and sold everything and came back," Bill Mears explained, still today a little amused by the adventure of his own story. "My wife's aunt sent her mom some money to buy gas for us. We brought them out here to see it and just liked it so well, we said, 'We'll go home, give ourselves a couple weeks and we're coming back.' And so we did." They sold most of their belongings in Kansas and motored West to set up home. Racing was not necessarily any grand vision for this couple that ultimately raised some of the country's most celebrated champions in Roger and Rick. "I came out here and I started racing out here and when I quit, the kids started doing it," Bill Mears explained. "We always did everything to be together. We did it for family, never expected to do it for racing. That's why they called it the 'Mears Gang.' We were always together, rode motorcycles together, just grew up in the mountains on the weekends. We had a family deal and it just worked out to be unbelievable," he explained, his voice becoming a little emotional. "It's just been unbelievable. "We would go to L.A. and Rick raced motorcycles, but my wife didn't like him riding. He was winning and everything, but we were afraid he'd get hurt. We went to L.A. and saw a (dune)buggy race, Volkswagens. We watched them race and said to the boys, 'We'll build you one of these if you'll quit racing motorcycles.' So that's how it got started." He remembers his then-teenage sons working hard during the week to raise money for their weekend racing passion -- their fantastic legacies still to be set. "We were all just racers and went out to local tracks on weekends with friends," Bill Mears said. "Harvick's dad came out to our shop and helped us on our first NASCAR pick-up we built. Harvick was just a little kid standing back there watching his dad work on our car. "Just a group that everybody likes racing. We'd just meet at local tracks on weekends and race. I can't believe how many local drivers have made it. And Ryan Reed now. It just shows there's a lot of talent around here." Harvick, Reed welcomed back with open arms A year ago, then-reigning Cup champion Harvick stopped by his hometown to dedicate a YMCA, film a biographical feature for TV, dine with his old friends and supporters, and bask in the love and pride showered upon him by all those fans who remember him when. People stood in front of the brick YMCA building for hours waiting for a handshake or autograph, eager to cheer his entrance. Many wore "vintage" t-shirts from Harvick's late-model days. They remember watching him "when." And yet for many waiting in line, this was yet another chance to see Harvick, who comes back to town several times a year. His mom, father and sister still live in Bakersfield's "Oildale" community, or as Harvick said in accepting one of his early NASCAR trophies, "Not bad for an 08-er," referring to the 93308 zip code for the area. Harvick, Mears and Reed all went to different high schools and are just different enough in age to represent three distinct Bakersfield eras. Reed, 22, who drives the No. 16 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing in the XFINITY Series, considers himself fortunate to have grown up in the town and pursued racing -- and to have the Mears and Harvick to look up to. "For sure this is a racing town," Reed said of Bakersfield. "And it's just a really cool thing. The newspaper, the sports writers, it doesn't matter. In (2014), we finished ninth in the points and they were still doing stories on us. It doesn't matter if you've had a horrible year and they want to know how you'll get better, or you have a great year and they want to brag about it. "They are there to support you, and when I go home I always have people coming up to me and saying, 'Good going.' They're just so proud of me. To hear that is really cool. "And it definitely motivates you." Marion Collins, who used to run Mesa Marin where Reed’s father and later, Harvick raced, is still sentimental about what the track meant to the area and how it contributed to the sport. "We feel really good about all the people that's come through here," Collins said. "Kevin (Harvick), (Ron) Hornaday and just a ton of guys from this part of the country. "At one time, we had the best race track in this part of the country and everyone wanted to come here. Kinda nice to have people come here and then do good things on down the road." Harvick couldn't agree more. And as the Stewart-Haas Racing driver interacts with old friends and former influences in Bakersfield, his pride -- their pride -- couldn't be more apparent. Everyone worked in a large confluence to help racing careers. And it's been an undeniable success. "That's just this town and really the way it's been since I started racing," Harvick said. "You develop the relationships through the years. "That network of people is what made our race teams function well. Getting out there and talking to people, you create friendships and partnerships. You have to put the effort in to make it work. "I come back here all the time and it would be the same type of turnout whether I was winning or losing. These people have supported me through the years, win lose or draw. "That's the type of community it is."
Casey Mears and Germain Racing have agreed to a three-year contract extension that will keep Mears in the No. 13 Chevrolet through 2018, the team announced Thursday. GEICO also extended its relationship with Germain Racing to be the vehicle's primary sponsor through 2018. GEICO has been a primary sponsor with the team since its inception in 2009. "This is great news for our Germain Racing team because everyone has worked so hard to build this GEICO program and people in the garage are taking notice of what we're accomplishing," Mears said in a team release. "GEICO is such a great partner and they not only support our team, but the sport in general, which makes me even prouder to have the opportunity to drive the GEICO Chevy. We appreciate their belief in us and have enjoyed our relationship with everyone at the corporate office, as well as the GEICO associates that we get to interface with each week at the race track." Mears has piloted the car full time since the 2011 season, notching one top five and five top 10s during that span. He currently sits 22nd in the points standings with two races remaining in the 2015 season. If it holds, it would be his best finish with Germain Racing .
RELATED: Practice 1 results " Final practice results Casey Mears set the pace in final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice Friday afternoon at Richmond International Raceway . Mears steered the Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet to a best lap of 120.557 mph on the .75-mile track in final preparation for Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). Saturday's regular-season finale will determine the 16-driver field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Kyle Larson posted the second-fastest lap in the 85-minute session at 120.096 mph with the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet. Martin Truex Jr ., last weekend's winner at Darlington Raceway , turned the third-fastest lap (119.808 mph) in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota. Jamie McMurray , currently clinging to the last playoff spot on the provisional Chase grid, was fourth-fastest (119.665 mph) in the Ganassi No. 1 Chevrolet. Tony Stewart , a three-time Richmond winner, completed the top five at 119.612 mph in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevy. Jeff Gordon , making another substitute start as Dale Earnhardt Jr . continues to sit out with concussion-related issues, was 14-fastest in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. Defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch , who was fastest in opening practice Friday morning, was 17th-fastest in the afternoon session in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. Coors Light Pole Qualifying for Saturday's 400-lapper is scheduled Friday at 5:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN). Kyle Busch fastest in opening practice Kyle Busch topped the leaderboard in Friday's first Sprint Cup Series practice at Richmond International Raceway at 120.979 mph in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. 'Rowdy' has four wins at the 0.75-mile Virginia track and a sterling 6.9 average finish in 22 starts. Right behind him was last week's Darlington Raceway winner Martin Truex Jr . in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota at 120.649 mph. Rounding out the top five were Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 JGR Toyota, Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 JGR Toyota. Series points leader Kevin Harvick was 13th fastest with a speed of 119.105 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.