By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Ariz. – All eyes were on Jimmie Johnson’s return to on-track action during day one of NASCAR Cup Series testing at Phoenix Raceway, including a familiar – and popular – face. Former Hendrick Motorsports teammate and California-born driver Casey Mears was once again spotted on the track hanging around the Legacy Motor Club No. 84 team.
Mears, now a resident of Scottsdale, Arizona, has been a longtime friend of Johnson. With the seven-time champion now co-owner of Legacy MC and competing in just five races this coming season, speculation began to swirl about the potential of Mears joining the Chevrolet organization.
“Not right now,” Mears told me Kickin’ the Tires. “I just came out to support a friend of mine, but with Jimmie involved, if there’s any way I can help, I’d certainly enjoy something like that.”
After 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 try other forms of racing.
While a return to Cup isn’t quite on the table yet, Mears’ desire to return to NASCAR on a part-time basis was piqued when he discovered he’s not far from reaching a significant career milestone.
“I was looking at stats a while ago and I was never really aware of where I was when it comes to starting,” Mears said. “I’m 11 away from 500. I’d love to figure out how to put together an 11-race schedule with somebody, just to put an end to that.
“I’m nowhere near that, because there are no talks going on, but the thought popped into my head. 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 achieve that.”
At 44, only time will tell if Mears can lock down a ride to achieve 500 Cup starts. Joey Logano became the latest driver to reach 500 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Bristol Motor Speedway’s Night race. Logano was the 45th driver in the series’ 75-year history to reach 500 starts.
With drivers in the same age group as Johnson and AJ Allmendinger securing spots at NASCAR’s top 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.