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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: Steve Letarte on challenges of avoiding speeding penalites

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NBC Sports analysts Steve Letarte joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast this week. One of the topics the former crew chief discussed is the challenge of avoiding speeding penalties on pit road. Letarte said the introduction of digital dashboards has made it even harder.

Watch the video to hear his thoughts.

NASCAR America: Comparing severity of Harvick, Keselowski and Allmendinger penalties

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NASCAR handed out two crew chief suspensions in the Cup this week following the race weekend in Phoenix while another was upheld on appeal.

Brad Keselowski‘s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, was suspended three races and the team was docked 35 driver and owners points for failing weights and measurements in post-race inspection.

Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, was suspended one race and the team docked 10 driver and owner points for an unapproved track bar slider assembly.

The penalties for AJ Allmendinger‘s team, including the suspension of crew chief Randall Burnett, was upheld after an appeal.

The NASCAR America crew debates which team is hurt the most by their penalties.

 

Mario Andretti tries out, approves of Charlotte Motor Speedway road course

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We now have two positive reviews of the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Following AJ Allmendinger‘s comments back in January, IndyCar legend Mario Andretti has shared his thoughts on the 2.4-mile circuit that will likely host a NASCAR Cup race in fall 2018.

As a guest of the track and the NASCAR Racing Experience, the 77-year-old driver piloted two cars – a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid and a 2017 Cadillac CTS-V. Andretti maxed out at 177 mph in the Porsche.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to really create a road course where you can ‘stretch your legs’ inside an oval,” Andretti said in a press release. “From that standpoint, I think they did a good job by giving it rhythm by putting some banking to the hairpin corners – which obviously invites some overtaking. It’s wide enough that you can choose a line. You’re not really trapped. … It’s got a multiple-line (groove) that you can choose from, depending on the capability of the car.”

The “roval” circuit would use most of the 1.5-mile oval NASCAR already competes on.

Allmendinger took part in a data test on the road course in mid-January and later said it “was a lot of fun.”

Earlier this month, Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith said the track “learned a lot” from the test.

“We have done a lot to engineer a world-class road course that would include the ‘roval,'” Smith told NBC Sports, adding that “several truckloads of crash walls and catchfence” were being transported in for installation.

The Cup Series has two road courses on it schedule, at Sonoma Raceway in California and Watkins Glen International in New York.

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Drivers unhurt in crash of Furniture Row Racing hauler near Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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The drivers of the Furniture Row Racing hauler carrying Erik Jones’ No. 77 Toyota were uninjured Thursday in a hit-and-run accident 15 miles north of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Travis Watts, who was behind the wheel, and David Shano were traveling from Phoenix Raceway to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, when their tractor-trailer rig was struck shortly after midnight on Interstate 15, according to a team release. The team said a car carrying two occupants pulled off the shoulder and back onto the highway directly in front of the truck, causing front-end damage to the tractor.

The team said there was no damage to the trailer or its interior, which was carrying Jones’ cars.

“We’re all very relieved no one was injured in the incident,” team president Joe Garone said. “There was substantial damage to the tractor, but everything in the trailer was checked out thoroughly and is OK. We’ve rented a tractor and the No. 77 hauler is on schedule to arrive at Auto Club Speedway later (Thursday).”

The team rented a replacement tractor at a Rush Truck Centers in North Las Vegas.

According to the team, the Nevada Highway Patrol apprehended and arrested the occupants of the car. The team is working to supply police with a video dash cam from the No. 77 tractor.