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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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NASCAR America: Was Kyle Busch wrong to blame Joey Logano?

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It wasn’t so much that Martin Truex Jr. kept Kyle Busch from winning the championship in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.

At least that’s not the way Busch saw it.

Busch felt he had the race car and the speed to track down Truex and eventually pass him – had it not been for Joey Logano.

An upset Busch said after the race to NBC Sports that he felt Logano may have impeded his progress but on Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman both agreed that Logano did nothing wrong, that he was trying to win the race himself.

Here’s some of what the analysts had to say:

Jarrett: “It’s not just the four championship drivers that are out there competing, everyone else is out there and they have an agenda. Joey Logano has had a bad year by his standards, so he was trying to get everything he possibly could.

“But, here’s another thing I’ll say: Joey Logano really did nothing wrong there. And something that all drivers, not just Kyle Busch, that you have to think about … things that you might have done to rile a competitor, you never know when that might come back to get you.

“We talk about paybacks all the time. It doesn’t have to be somebody wrecking somebody to pay back, all they have to do in a critical situation is hold you up a little bit. I don’t know if that’s what Joey Logano was doing or not or just racing as hard as he could and that made it difficult for Kyle Busch to get by.

“… I think it was simply racing. It was unfortunate for Kyle, but it’s part of the way the playoff system works here in NASCAR.”

Here’s what Kligerman had to say:

“I think at that point of the race, there was still a chance for Joey Logano to rally and go challenge for a win. … That’s what you have to deal with, that’s what racing over 38 weeks is about in the Cup Series, racing 39, 40 cars every week. You have to race those guys. … Kyle Busch had one of the fastest cars, but was Joey Logano the only one that was really the problem. As they came to the end, Kyle Larson was in the picture a little bit. You can’t put the blame on Joey Logano. He was just driving his race.”

Hear more about what they had to say in the video above.

 

 

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s first moments of retirement

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As soon as he crossed the checkered flag in Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400, Dale Earnhardt Jr. morphed from race car driver to retired race car driver.

And what better way to begin retirement than with a party, and that’s what Junior did with his team, friends and fans along the frontstretch of Homestead-Miami Speedway.

On Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman both spoke about how Junior sailed on into retirement.

Among their comments:

Kligerman: “It was maybe an hour and a half and there was still this swarm of people around his car. He and his team were sitting there, drinking beer and hanging out, he was signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. It was just incredible to see him just sitting there and taking in the moment.”

Jarrett added about the role and impact Rick Hendrick had upon Junior’s life and career both on and off the track: “Rick Hendrick came in and got in Dale Jr.’s life at a time that Junior really needed someone and needed that support, that father figure, if you will. Rick Hendrick is just so good at that. Rick’s been through a lot in his life, Dale Jr. has been that. The two of them together did a lot of real good things and were good for each other.”

Check out more of what Jarrett and Kligerman had to say in the video above.

 

 

 

NASCAR America: Jarrett, Kligerman on role Sherry Pollex played in Truex’s championship

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman talked about the key role Sherry Pollex played in Martin Truex Jr.‘s run for the NASCAR Cup championship — not just in Sunday’s race, but through the whole season as a source of inspiration and motivation.

First, here’s some of what Kligerman said:

“She’s a massive inspiration. I can’t imagine what she’s going through. For what Martin and this team have all gone through, and to have the success they’re having on the track, and all this going on off the racetrack, it’s just incredible.

“To bring inspiration to people’s lives, that’s really impactful. They are going through a tough time and it’s easy to get down when you’re going through a tough time. But they’re using their success on the racetrack to bring inspiration to other people. That’s one of the best things you can possibly do, I believe.”

And here’s some of Jarrett’s insight:

“She’s just an amazing person and you can tell just the inspiration she has been to Martin Truex Jr. to just never give up and never waver.

“You never hear them talk about the struggles, only when they’re asked about it. They don’t talk about how difficult their life is, because they know others are probably struggling more than they are at times.

“But they’re such good people and it’s really good to see good things happen to good people that really give their all and are an inspiration to others.

“I don’t care who you might have been a fan of and pulling for … you had to feel good to have this end this way because they’ve been through a lot, and they’ll continue to go through that, but they have a championship to show for all those struggles, hard work and effort.”

See and hear more of Jarrett’s and Kligerman’s analysis in the video above.

Also, check out what Truex had to say about how important his father was to his development as a race car driver — and now a Cup champion — in the video below.

 

Roush Fenway Racing to field three-driver Xfinity development team in 2018

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Roush Fenway Racing announced Monday it will field a full-time driver development team next season in the Xfinity Series.

Ty Majeski, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe will share driving duties behind the wheel of the No. 60 Roush Fenway Ford Mustang.

In addition, Team Penske and Ford Performance will also collaborate in the venture.

Mike Kelley, who led Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to two Xfinity championships, will serve as crew chief for the No. 60.

“All three of these drivers have exhibited a great deal of potential on and off the track,” Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said in a press release. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch as they hone their skills together and grow into the next generation of champions in our sport.”

Here are the drivers:

* Majeski recently earned his fourth consecutive ARCA Midwest Tour championship, winning six of 12 races. He also competed in 32 Late Model races this year, winning 20 and finishing top-3 in 29. He’s also ranked the No. 1 iRacer in the world, with over 830 wins in 1,112 starts. He finished 10th Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his third Xfinity start.

* The 19-year-old Cindric has won races in rallycross, IMSA, ARCA, the NASCAR K&N Series and the Camping World Truck Series. In his rookie season in Trucks this year, he advanced to the championship round. In 2017, he had one win, eight top-fives and 16 top-10s.

* Briscoe had one win (season finale Friday at Homestead), 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes and finished sixth in the points standings in his rookie season in Trucks. He won the 2016 ARCA championship by more than 500 points over the series’ runner-up with six wins and led nearly 1,000 laps.