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XFINITY

Mears on 2017 Debut: “It Was Fun Being Back”

FONTANA, Calif. — Casey Mears made his first start of the 2017 NASCAR season on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway, finishing 14th in the Service King 300.

Mears, running a 12-race schedule for Biagi-DenBeste Racing in the XFINITY Series, started 19th and immediately caught the attention of the broadcast booth, as he jumped eight positions in the first 10 laps of Stage 1.

Did four months out of the racecar amp the Bakersfield, California native up enough to navigate through the field as quick as he did?

“I don’t know,” Mears told POPULAR SPEED. “Maybe everyone was just not ready to go, and I was? It was weird … I just kind of shot all the way up through there.”

He lost a few positions as the opening stage winded down, but his No. 98 Geico Military Ford was flirting in the top 15 virtually the entire race.

“I just did what I normally do on restarts, and I just happened to go by everybody,” Mears said. “But we were too tight also. That’s probably why guys were loose to start, and we shot up through … then we lost some positions towards the end of that run.”

The 300-mile event marked his first XFINITY start in seven years. His last race in the series came at Phoenix International Raceway in April 2010, where he finished 31st for Braun Racing.

He also gave the No. 98, which is usually driven by Aric Almirola, its best finish of the season after the team sat out last week’s race at Phoenix.

Mears ran full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Germain Racing from August 2010 through 2016 but was replaced by Ty Dillon, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors in the No. 13 Chevrolet.

“It was fun being back. We struggled a little in practice and got a little behind,” Mears said. “But in the race, just about halfway through, we started to get it really close, and the car got a lot better.”

His next start for Biagi-DenBeste will be at Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks, and Geico will continue to support him in his 11 remaining races.

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By John Haverlin

John Haverlin is currently studying Communication at Arizona State University. He has been a reporter at Phoenix International Raceway for three years and has written news stories for the track's official site. Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Haverlin has lived in Arizona the past three years.