What's next for Casey Mears?
By Steven Ellis
December 6, 2016
Ten years ago, he was a promising young name in the Nextel Cup series.
Casey Mears is not a young driver anymore.
After three seasons with Chip Ganassi, a team in the middle of a rebuild after losing two star drivers in Sterling Marlin and Jamie McMurray, he was ready to take his talents to Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 25 National Guard car in 2007.
The 25 was typically more of the R&D car for Hendrick. With Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon in their prime, and Kyle Busch getting any opportunity he could to win races, Mears was there to give Hendrick valuable information in hopes of getting better chances in the future.
And then he won the 2007 Coke Zero 600.
Despite showing much promise beforehand, the victory came as a surprise. Sure, that can be said about most first-time winners, but with one win in the Busch Series (now XFINITY Series), he hadn’t shown a consistent ability to win races in solid equipment.
Skip forward to 2016, and he has yet to win again.
After getting his chances, it would look like he just isn’t good enough to be in a competitive ride. But in reality, Mears hasn’t had many opportunities to really show what he can do.
Since leaving Hendrick after 2008, Mears went to Richard Childress in their fourth car, the No. 07, which was similar to the No. 25 in terms of performance.
He lasted just one season in the ride before landing at Key Motorsports, a car that qualified for one race in seven attempts. He’d move around in a few smaller rides before finishing off the 2010 season with the No. 13 Germain Racing Toyota, a team he’d stick with until 2016.
Now, after six full seasons in the Geico-sponsored machine, Mears is back on the free agent market. For an underfunded team, Mears proved he still could perform in the top series.
With two top-10 finishes in the Daytona 500 and having strong starts to a few seasons, Mears impressed in a car that had no business battling in the top-20 each and every week.
The NASCAR silly season has been very active thus far, and as it stands, many teams don’t have openings available for the 38-year-old. That doesn’t mean his options are limited, but what are his choices heading into the 2017 season?
Circle Sport No. 33 Chevy
With a partnership in place with Richard Childress Racing, a team Mears is very familiar with (between the No. 07 and, later, the No. 13 becoming affiliated), Mears is likely a candidate for the Circle Sport if the rumors of them returning to the top level of NASCAR become true. Circle Sport will get their charter back after leasing it out to the No. 95 Leavine Racing team.
The 33 won’t be a competitive car, so unless he gets desperate to stay in the premier series, the opportunity may not be the most appealing to Mears.
But maybe, just maybe, the team learned a bit from working with Leavine last year and will look better than ever before. But would Mears really consider it?
Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford
With two wins since 2013, Front Row Motorsports has shown some muscle despite being a backmarker organization. Having a partnership in some form with Roush Fenway Racing could help, but considering they’re struggling on their own, it doesn’t improve them by a whole lot.
The spot is definitely available, but like any of the spots currently open in the Monster Energy Series, it doesn’t offer a lot of possibility for success.
Richard Petty Motorsports No. 44 Ford
With Brian Scott heading to the retirement home at the grand age of 28, the fleeting Richard Petty Motorsports team will be looking for a driver to work together with Aric Almirola.
While the spot is definitely available, it seems to be that going to the second car at RPM is essentially a death wish. In fact, in the past three years, the No. 9/44 combo has seen two drivers retire (Marcos Ambrose and Brian Scott). RPM doesn’t appear to be on the up end, but maybe a potential alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing could spice things up.
Richard Childress Racing No. 2/3/? XFINITY team
The nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, seeing a driver named Mears back in open wheel racing would truly excite the diehard fans. Casey is no stranger to Indycar, having raced in three IRL races and four CART starts in the early 2000’s.
Mears attempted two Indy 500’s in his career, DNQ’ing in both. If given the opportunity, it’s fair to assume he’d try to finally make the field, especially when the race struggles to get more than just 33 cars entered. But could Mears even find a competitive ride, with most teams already having their plans secured by now? It’s not clear if Mears is even considering going to Indycar, but you’d have to imagine it’s been in his thoughts at one point or another.
With a fresh assortment of GT Daytona cars coming into the series in 2016 and a brand new protoype program in place in the top division, it’s an exciting time to get into sportscar racing. Mears, who has raced in various different racing series during his lifetime, has three starts in the 24 Hours of Daytona, winning the overall race in 2006 with Chip Ganassi.
Many strong teams have yet to announce their driver lineups for 2017, but if Mears did consider moving to the Weathertech Sportscar Series, there likely would be no shortage of teams interested in adding the former Cup series winner.
He could always land in an endurance role for races like Daytona or Sebring, but you always have to wonder if getting enough attention to earn a spot in the 24 Hours of LeMans would be an interesting enough proposition for Mears to consider, especially with very few competitive rides open in NASCAR.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.