By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Ariz. – All eyes were on Jimmie Johnson’s return to on-track action during day one of the NASCAR Cup Series test at Phoenix Raceway, including a familiar – and popular – face. Former Hendrick Motorsports teammate and fellow California-born driver Casey Mears was spotted at the track once again, hanging around the Legacy Motor Club No. 84 team.
Mears, now a resident of Scottsdale, Arizona, has been a long-time friend of Johnson’s. With the seven-time champion now being a co-owner of Legacy M.C. and only competing in five races this upcoming season, speculation began to swirl about the potential of Mears joining the newly-branded Chevrolet organization.
“Not right now,” Mears told Kickin’ the Tires. “I strictly came out to support a friend of mine, but with Jimmie being involved, if there’s any way I can help, I definitely would enjoy something like that.”
Following a 14-year full-time career in Cup, Mears stepped away from NASCAR after the 2019 Daytona 500 in an effort to spend time with family and dabble in other forms of racing.
Although a return to Cup isn’t quite on the table just yet, Mears’ desire to return to NASCAR in a part-time capacity was piqued upon discovering he isn’t far off from accomplishing a significant career milestone.
“I was looking at stats a little while ago and I never really realized where I was as far as starts go,” Mears said. “I’m 11 away from 500. I would love to figure out how to put an 11-race schedule together with somebody just to cap it off.
“I’m nowhere near that, because there’s no conversations going on, but the thought popped into my mind. To see a guy like Jimmie come back, and to see a lot of guys that I raced with still doing it on a weekly basis, it makes me want to come back and somehow accomplish that.”
At 44 years old, only time will tell if Mears can lock down a ride to achieve 500 Cup starts. Joey Logano became the most recent driver to reach 500 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Bristol Motor Speedway’s Night race. Logano was the 45th driver in the 75-year history of the series to reach 500 starts.
With drivers in the same age group like Johnson and A.J. Allmendinger securing seats at NASCAR’s premier level in 2023, on top of guys like Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. still competing full-time in their forties, anything is possible – especially when one of your closest friends is a team owner.