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Landon Cassill: from start and park rookie to tenured veteran

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When you weren’t paying attention, Landon Cassill became a grizzled veteran.

At 27, the native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been around quite a while.

This year he enters his eighth season – fourth full-time – in the Cup Series. His NASCAR journey started roughly a decade ago with Hendrick Motorsports on a half-mile asphalt track in Easley, South Carolina.

“I drove a Cup car at Greenville-Pickens (Speedway),” Cassill said Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour. “It was Jeff Gordon’s first (Car of Tomorrow) car, so I drove one of his COT cars before he ever drove one out of the 24 shop. That was my job the first couple of years down here in North Carolina when I moved from Iowa, so I’ve been driving these cars for a long time.”

One could argue that Cassill was a founding member of NASCAR’s “youth movement” before the term existed.

On top of his testing for Hendrick, Cassill’s first NASCAR start came in 2007 in the Xfinity Series, when he was 17. Cassill’s debut was a year before Joey Logano‘s in 2008 at the age of 18. Logano also made his first three Cup Series starts that year.

Cassill’s 2010 Cup debut came with the defunct Phoenix Racing at Michigan International Speedway. Since then, Cassill has made 223 starts for seven different teams, including all of 2012 with BK Racing.

Most of his early races were “start and park” efforts. He didn’t finish a race until his 20th start in Auto Club Speedway in March 2011.

“You couldn’t even say that I was signed to a team because I was picking up jobs,” Cassill said. “So I still feel pretty young in my career I would say even though I’ve been around for a while … I’m just kind of cresting that edge of, ‘OK, we’re gonna figure out how to win races,’ because for the first few years of my Cup career it wasn’t really how are we gonna win races, it was how am I gonna get myself onto the race track and who am I gonna be doing it with.”

Cassill is now an established name in the Cup Series as he enters his second season with Front Row Motorsports.

He looks to build on a 2016 season that saw him finish 29th in the standings with season-best finishes of 11th at Talladega and 16th at Auto Club Speedway.

The highlight of last year were the 20 laps Cassill led in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The only laps he led last year, they are the most laps Cassill’s ever led in a race. They also topped the laps led all season by Austin Dillon (17), Chris Buescher (12), Ryan Blaney (11), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (6) and  Kasey Kahne (0).

Cassill believes “hard work” and the introduction of NASCAR’s new race and points format could lead to his No. 34 team improving significantly on his results from last year.

“I think you’re gonna see us caught in the middle of some of that action over the course of the year,” Cassill said. “The teams that have to fight, we’re always gonna have to fight. We’re not magically gonna be top 10 teams. We have to work to get there. We have to work very hard to get to the top 10, but I think you’re gonna see us in the crossfire of this strategy a lot.”

In Cassill’s camp will be teammate David Ragan, a veteran of 10 full-time Cup seasons who has returned for his second stint with the team. Ragan, 31, last raced for FRM from 2012-14, plus the 2015 Daytona 500. Ragan has raced for Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and most recently, BK Racing.

“I’ve learned as much driving for small teams as I have for the larger ones,” Ragan said. “You learn different things and you see different things, but Landon is a young guy, he’s healthy, he’s got a good racing IQ, I call it. He’s a short-track racer. He’s raced a lot. He’s worked on his own race car, so it’s fun to have a teammate that’s a racer, enjoys it, gets it. He knows the business side of it, too.”

Despite having been in NASCAR for 10 years, Cassill isn’t one that views his whole life as orbiting around his racing career. He already has an eye on what’s next, whenever that comes.

“I’ve got a beautiful family,” Cassill said. “I’m a homeowner, that’s cool. I’m still racing for a living and I’m really proud that I get to do that and I’m proud that I get to be here, and, honestly, I’m excited for the rest of my career and then whatever my second career may be, whether it’s selling used cars with my dad or playing a role in the NASCAR industry somehow. I feel like being a NASCAR driver is stage one of my life.”

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Ryan Preece is fastest in final Xfinity practice Friday at Kentucky

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Ryan Preece soared to the top of the speed chart in the final Xfinity practice Friday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Preece covered the 1.5-mile oval with a top speed of 181.629 mph. He hit that speed on his first of 38 laps run during the session.

Justin Allgaier was second (180.777 mph), followed by Spencer Gallagher Jr. (180.114), Tyler Reddick (179.832) and Daniel Hemric (179.712).

Sixth through 10th: Matt Tifft (179.665), who was fastest in the first practice session earlier in the afternoon, William Byron (179.605), Brennan Poole (179.581), Sam Hornish Jr. (179.521) and Brandon Jones (179.521).

Five of the 12 Xfinity playoff contenders ended up in the top 10: Allgaier, Hemric, Tifft, Byron and Poole.

Others playoff contenders on the speed chart were Elliott Sadler (12th, 179.194), Ryan Reed (16th, 178.944), Cole Custer (17th, 178.838), Brendan Gaughan (19th, 178.453), Blake Koch (20th, 178.159), Michael Annett (21st, 178.124) and Jeremy Clements (25th, 176. 286).

Qualifying for Saturday night’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 takes place at 5:30 p.m. ET, with the race set to take the green flag at 8 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full speed chart from the final Xfinity practice.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Cup race at Loudon

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Up until this season, Kyle Busch wasn’t necessarily looked upon as a prolific qualifier.

He earned a career-best three poles in 2013 and 2014.

But that’s nothing compared to 2017, as Busch earned a career-best eighth pole Friday for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It’s also his second consecutive pole, having won the pole for last weekend’s playoff-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kyle Larson was next and will join Busch on the front row Sunday.

As for the other 14 NASCAR Cup playoff contenders: Denny Hamlin (134.763) was third, followed by Ryan Blaney (134.720), Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. (134.188), Kevin Harvick (134.108), Kurt Busch (133.985), Kasey Kahne (133.966), Matt Kenseth (133.589), Jamie McMurray (133.680) and Jimmie Johnson (131.989).

Of the top 12 qualifiers, 11 are playoff drivers. The only non-playoff driver was Erik Jones (eighth, 133.971).

As for the other five playoff contenders, Brad Keselowski was 13th (133.422), Chase Elliott (133.357) was 14th, Austin Dillon was 17th (133.133), Ryan Newman was 18th (133.007) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified 24th (131.628).

Click here for the starting lineup.

 

Kyle Busch gets past Kyle Larson to take Cup pole at Loudon

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In a battle between Kyle and Kyle, it was Kyle Busch who emerged with the pole for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The younger Busch brother was the only driver over 135 mph, taking his 27th career Cup pole with a speed of 135.049 mph.

“Just went out there and gave it what she had,” Busch told NBCSN. “It certainly would be great to finish this out in victory lane on Sunday.

“We knew we were going to have a shot for the pole, just didn’t know if we were going to get it. For as ugly as that session looked or felt from my vantage point, it certainly worked out.”

Busch has now won the pole for the first two playoff races, having won the pole last week at Chicagoland.

What’s more, this is the most prolific season of qualifying for Busch in his career: this is his eighth pole in 2017, most of all drivers in the Cup series and his most in a single season. His previous mark for most poles in a single season was three in both 2013 and 2014.

As for the other Kyle, Kyle Larson, he qualified on the outside of the front row with an effort of 134.911 mph.

“I feel overall that my lap was pretty good,” said Larson, who finished second in the July race at New Hampshire. “The 18 has been real fast, especially in qualifying all year. For us to be second to him is not bad.”

Denny Hamlin (134.763) was third, followed by Ryan Blaney (134.720), Martin Truex Jr. (134.188), Kevin Harvick (134.108), Kurt Busch (133.985), Erik Jones (133.971), Kasey Kahne (133.966), Matt Kenseth (133.589), Jamie McMurray (133.680) and Jimmie Johnson (131.989).

Of the top 12, 11 are in the NASCAR Cup playoffs. The only non-playoff driver was Jones.

As for the other five playoff contenders, Brad Keselowski was 13th (133.422), Chase Elliott (133.357) was 14th, Austin Dillon was 17th (133.133), Ryan Newman was 18th (133.007) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified 24th (131.628).

Elliott and Johnson both wrecked their primary cars in the Cup practice session earlier in the day.

While Johnson was able to get back on-track for that practice session with his back-up car, Elliott qualified cold with his back-up, unable to get back on-track during the morning practice.

Joey Logano did not take a qualifying lap after failing pre-qualifying inspection four times. Logano will start last (40th position) in Sunday’s race at NHMS, which he considers his “home track.”

Click here for the full qualifying grid.

Matt Tifft fastest in first of 2 Xfinity practices at Kentucky Speedway

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Matt Tifft ran 25 laps during Friday afternoon’s first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series practice sessions at Kentucky Speedway.

But it was just one lap that mattered the most, as Tifft (180.427 mph) emerged from the 55-minute practice as the fastest in the 36 cars that took to the track.

Brian Scott was second (179.253 mph), followed by Ryan Preece (178.465), Brandon Jones (178.288), Justin Allgaier (178.271), Ben Kennedy (178.136), Elliott Sadler (177.573), Tyler Reddick (177.544), Spencer Gallagher Jr. (177.503) and Brennan Poole (177.381).

Interestingly enough, only four of the top-10 were playoff contenders. The seven-race Xfinity playoffs begin with Saturday night’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

There will be one more practice session today from 6:30-7:25 p.m. ET.

Qualifying and the race are Saturday.

Click here for the full practice speed grid.