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Casey Mears , young fan build bonds at Legoland
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.
Casey Mears' Darlington paint scheme revealed
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 ]
Casey Mears : Is this the year?
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."
Casey Mears inks extension with Germain Racing
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
'Dirty Air' crew welcomes Casey Mears
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."
With uncertain future, Mears focused on '16 season
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.
Mears soars in final Sprint Cup practice at Richmond
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.
Biffle and Jeffrey Earnhardt wreck, collects Mears
Greg Biffle and Jeffrey Earnhardt make contact and collects Casey Mears at Talladega Superspeedway.
Patrick, Mears and Scott involved in wreck
Following a restart Casey Mears and Danica Patrick get together, collecting Brian Scott at Michigan International Speedway.
Mears victim of Waltrip's long and wild spin
Michael Waltrip goes for a long spin into Turn 3, clipping the side of Casey Mears and sending the No. 13 into Aric Almirola and the wall.