By National Guard BureauMay 29, 2007
CONCORD, N.C. (National Guard Bureau, May 27, 2007) -- In his 156th NEXTEL Cup Series start, Casey Mears, driver of the No. 25 National Guard/GMAC "American Heroes" Chevrolet, won the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday evening at Lowe's Motor Speedway to earn his first victory at NASCAR's highest level.
The 29-year-old driver gambled his way to Victory Lane after running in the Top 10 for much of the 400-lap race. With less than 10 laps to go, crew chief Darian Grubb made the call to stay out as the leaders pitted, and Mr. Mears was able to stretch his fuel to the finish line --just barely.
"This win is unreal --it's been a long time coming, and I'm so proud of the team," said Mr. Mears, who ran out of gas on the cool-down lap after taking the checkered flag. "Darian made a great call and told me to conserve fuel. That was the call that won it for us, and turned our third or fourth-place car into the winning car."
Mr. Mears, who qualified 16th-fastest for the event, was especially satisfied with the end result after his team fought through a race riddled with various challenges.
Early on, Mr. Mears struggled with a tight racecar and just missed being involved in several significant wrecks. He was able to drive through a multi-car accident that happened after Jimmie Johnson lost a tire tread in traffic on Lap 53 and avoided a Lap 63 accident involving teammate Jeff Gordon.
Just past the race's halfway mark, Mr. Mears was again able to thread the needle and somehow missed hitting anyone when the No. 99 car lost a tire while running third and collected the No. 6 car as a result.
From a performance perspective, Mr. Mears and the No. 25 National Guard/GMAC "American Heroes" Chevrolet team also dealt with alternator difficulties that surfaced on Lap 149. Mr. Mears reported the car was showing no volts, and Mr. Grubb made the call to switch to the back-up battery before bringing his driver in for a primary battery replacement on Lap 170.
Due to the quick work of the No. 25 team, Mr. Mears was able to stay on the lead lap despite changing batteries and for the remainder of the race, he periodically switched back and forth between the primary and back-up batteries to ensure engine power.
"The alternator definitely had me worried, but Darian was calm and we got through it," Mr. Mears said. "The crew did a great job not only with that swap, but with keeping up with race track. The track conditions forced us to make a lot of changes as the sun went down, and we ended up with just a completely different car than we started with."
Mr. Mears, who pitted a total of 12 times for various combinations of air pressure, wedge and track-bar adjustments, as well as both two and four-tire changes with fuel, felt the car was too tight to drive the high side of race track during the closing segment of the race. However, he was able to maintain a strong bottom line after moving out of two-wide traffic, and put himself in position to challenge for the victory.
Mr. Mears said it was especially meaningful that his first Cup Series victory came on Memorial Day weekend. His uncle, Rick Mears, won the Indianapolis 500 on this same weekend in 1979, 1984, 1988 and 1991.
Additionally, Mr. Mears' No. 25 National Guard/GMAC "American Heroes" Chevrolet featured a special paint scheme this weekend as part of the American Heroes Memorial Day salute to the Armed Forces at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The No. 25 car featured an Army Camouflage Uniform pattern paint scheme with the names of National Guard Soldiers who lost their lives in the war on terror displayed on the car's deck lid.
"This is a special weekend for me, obviously because of my family's history with Indianapolis 500, but also because it's Memorial Day weekend and we have the privilege to represent the National Guard," Mr. Mears said. "It was an honor for me to have those names on our car, and to win with them on board is amazing.
"I'm so glad we could get it done for the Guard, GMAC and everyone who supports us every weekend at the track."
After the race, Mr. Mears jumped six spots in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings to move into 29th.