Daytona 500: Casey Mears race report

Mears finishes 27th in career-first Daytona 500. Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 16, 2003) --- Casey Mears, driver of the No. 41 Target Dodge, finished 27th in the Daytona 500. Mears was the first and only rookie to lead a lap this season. In...

Mears finishes 27th in career-first Daytona 500.

Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 16, 2003) --- Casey Mears, driver of the No. 41 Target Dodge, finished 27th in the Daytona 500. Mears was the first and only rookie to lead a lap this season.

In final practice on Saturday, Mears blew a right front tire in his Target Dodge and hit the wall hard enough to go to a backup car. Due to the incident, Mears had to start the Daytona 500 in the back of the field instead of his 29th place qualifying start.

At the start of the race, Mears found that the middle line was working well and moved up to 21st position by lap 10. Just at that time, the water temperature in his Target Dodge was going way above normal. Mears fell back through the field in order to cool off his car and save the engine before the first pit stop at lap 32. Mears radioed in to the crew stating that he felt he could go through the pack again but wanted to baby the engine before they could pit.

"We got up to about 17th or so from startling last," Mears said. "I felt really good about the car. We had a little bit of an overheating problem at the beginning and I had to go to the back to get some air under the hood to cool the engine off a little bit. It looked bad. It looked like we dropped to the back of the pack but really we dropped back there to cool the engine off."

Team Target pitted on lap 32 giving Mears air pressure and track bar adjustments to tighten the car and they took tape off the front grill to cool the car down.

Another caution on lap 40 brought the Target Dodge in for four tires and a little more tape off of the car. In the 14-second pit stop, the team accidentally took off two much tape and Mears had to come in a second time to have tape reapplied to the grill. He restarted 36th.

Mears raced in the 30s for the next 15 laps before rain hit Daytona International Speedway halting the race at 2:00 p.m. ET. After an hour and a half rain-delay, Team Target got back out on the track and led a lap during the caution period pit sequence before the race restarted. After leading his first lap in his Winston Cup Series career, Mears brought his car in for his pit stop and went back out to start the race in 38th position. On the restart, Mears was stuck out of the draft on the restart and ran with Terry Labonte until a caution came out on lap 94.

"It got running good there again and there was another caution and I kind of made a mistake on the restart," Mears said. "I got out of the draft and lost the draft and fortunately Terry Labonte had an ignition problem that dropped him back and about that time I picked him up and that kept us in the hunt there. And then there was another caution with Ward Burton, which put us back with the lead pack."

Team Target pitted for four tires and fuel during the caution and restarted in 31st position. Mears was in 27th position when the rain fell again at 4:10 p.m. ET. The red flag showed again at Daytona International Speedway and the race was called approximately an hour later.

Mears finished the rain-shortened Daytona 500 in 27th position. He gained 5 bonus points for leading a lap and is in 27th position in Winston Cup Championship point's standings.

"The rain put a damper on my first race a little bit because we had a really good run there," Mears said. "I really wanted to finish it bad. I wanted to get all the miles under my belt and get all the experience I could. So I'm a little disappointed in that but I was real happy with the job the guys did in getting our backup car ready in one day for the 500."

Team Target heads to Rockingham next weekend for the Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway on February 23.

-cgr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Terry Labonte , Casey Mears