A NASCAR driver whose branding and popularity have embodied the age of social media memes, it’s fitting to frame the career of Landon Cassill through 21st century Internet reinvention.
Landon 1.0 was the teenage prospect for Hendrick Motorsports who wrecked more than a few Xfinity cars at JR Motorsports in 2007-08 (“I was 18 and had no idea what truly being a professional race car driver was like.”).
Landon 2.0 was the test driver and Xfinity part-timer who scuffled through the aftermath of being labeled a NASCAR flash in the pan.
Landon 3.0 was the full-time Cup Series driver from 2012-19 who endured awkward situations (including a lawsuit over getting paid) at backmarker teams while becoming an irreverent Twitter cult hero amid occasional work as a NASCAR on NBC analyst.
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After a transitory and turbulent period since then, it’s hard to nail down exactly what version of Cassill this would count as after an undulating ride through more than 400 starts in NASCAR’s three national series.
But with sponsorship from the Voyager Digital crypto platform, the 2022 edition will be the most stable of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native’s career: A previously announced full-time Xfinity ride with Kaulig Racing and a schedule of at least a dozen Cup races in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet (which he will share with Josh Bilicki).
And regardless of which iteration this would mark, Cassill, 32, is certain of one thing: It’s the best opportunity he ever will have for finally visiting victory lane in NASCAR.
“For sure,” Cassill told NBC Sports. “It’s such a new challenge for me because I think every driver in 15th to 25th can so easily look at the top teams and say, ‘I’m just as good as that driver. All I need is the car.’ But the real challenge I’m preparing for and about to find out is how hard it is to win these races. Before the job was different. It was to run 15th, not wreck the car, qualify for the race, or make it through six weeks.
“I feel like I’m almost changing professions. I’m going from one sort of role in my skillset to a different one. There are different aspects of race car driving I’ll have to tap into that I haven’t used in a long time or haven’t trained for. I have more resources and more experience now to know what being a true professional race car driver takes, and there’s so much more knowledge out there. I have more support in this opportunity than I’ve ever had to make sure I’m the best race car driver I can be.”
Though the redemption tour officially will begin this weekend with Spire in the Clash at the Coliseum, the Xfinity season opener Feb. 19 in the No. 10 Chevy will be a major benchmark. Cassill will be teamed with defending series champion Daniel Hemric and 10-time winner AJ Allmendinger on a team that has become well known as among the best in the draft at Daytona International Speedway.
Though Cassill has spent the offseason immersed in data, simulation and video homework, he also realizes there’s only so much he can do to be ready for his best shot at a checkered flag in the 177th start of his Xfinity career.
“I think by Lap 5 at Daytona, I’m going to realize how much easier it is to run in the draft with the car that I’m driving,” he said. “That’s going to help me execute on the strategies I studied or prepared for or talked to team about. I’m definitely working every single day on my craft to make sure I’m prepared, but there is a bit of wait and see. I won’t know until I know.
“The thing that is exciting to me, I have 100% faith in what (team owner) Matt Kaulig and (president) Chris Rice are building and have the resources to build. So it’s extremely relieving for me because I don’t have to think and worry about that. I don’t really have to worry about having input because this team already has the people to do that. What it does for me is allows me to focus on things as a driver in higher quality than I’ve ever done in my career.
“And I can scrutinize my own driving in a way that I’ve never done in my career because I’ll have two teammates that won the championship and won five races last year at all different types of tracks. I’ll be able to lean on those guys and know my car is capable of this. I should have an open mind of what do I have to do to match that.”
Cassill has had teammates at Johnny Davis Motorsports, which fielded him full time in its No. 4 last season.
The ride helped Cassill build his relationship with the Voyager sponsorship and also was a lifeline after a bleak 2020 season. Cassill made only four starts – his fewest in a decade – and none after starting at Darlington Raceway in NASCAR’s return from a two-month delay for the pandemic. He was on the road as a backup driver for JTG Daugherty Racing and GMS (though neither needed him to fill COVID-19 absences) but was out of the national series for nine months.
“That was a really weird year,” he said. “I ran so few races but was awfully active because of all the iRacing stuff. So I didn’t feel like I was gone, but it didn’t occur to me how far out of the seat I’d been until I got in the car at Daytona in 2021.
“It’s so hard to point to saying that was the end, because I really enjoy driving for Johnny Davis. I love that team and what he’s done for me and what we’ve done for each other in our careers. I could have been happy driving for Johnny for two to three more years and retiring. Because I feel like I fit a really good role there of take this car, with this amount of resources, and maximize it with minimal damage. It wasn’t like. ‘I can only stand one more year of this crap, then I’ll retire.’ It was, ‘I like what I’m doing here.’ ”
With one exception: The lack of a victory on his resume. Over 15 seasons in NASCAR, Cassill has a combined two top fives in Cup (a fourth at Talladega in 2014) and Xfinity (third at Daytona in 2011.
The Voyager sponsorship, which started through a chance meeting with CEO Steve Ehrlich at a conference two years ago, offered Cassill a chance to change that narrative.
After engagement spiked from putting the Shiba Inu coin on Cassill’s car (in a 19-race sponsorship last season), Ehrlich said the company decided to “significantly” increase its NASCAR spend (which is part of a sports marketing budget that also includes NFL star Rob Gronkowski, NBA player Victor Oladipo and the Dallas Mavericks).
“We saw tremendous feedback that helped us grow, but really most important was Landon being a great ambassador,” Ehrlich told NBC Sports. “Not just for Voyager but for crypto being probably the only NASCAR driver that’s crypto-centric. Landon was in this space long before anyone else.
“All that helped us put it in perspective that we had that much exposure and built our brand and recognition and customer base when he was driving for JD Motorsports. We thought this was an opportune time for having him move up to Kaulig. They race for trophies, we felt Landon was the right guy to represent us. He has a super appealing personality that fits our ‘Crypto for All’ strategy of being associated with the general population. Being a leader in crypto in NASCAR was one of our goals.”
As part of the deal, Cassill is paid in crypto, and he said he is using the Voyager brokerage platform to bring the sponsorship funding to teams in US dollars. He also had a certain amount of autonomy in the direction of the sponsorship after Ehrlich decided last June to go bigger in 2022.
“I started talking with my wife about it a lot, and I said, ‘I want to win in NASCAR and put myself in best chance to do that,’ which is what led me to Kaulig Racing,” he said. “I still have to do it. In a lot of ways just by having the ride and showing up at Daytona with my name on the door, I feel like I’ve won. But the work has really only begun. Every driver who thinks if I just had a $2, 3, 4M sponsor. If I just had that sponsor, everything else would fall into place. And really that’s not the case. I think you just trade one set of challenges for another. So for me, the challenge is really only beginning. I need to figure out how to squeeze everything out of this.”
Cassill believes the Cup races with Spire (of which Voyage will sponsor 11) in the Next Gen car also will offer the opportunity for maximizing results.
“I feel I’m the best driver I can be when I ran as many Cup and Xfinity races in the same season I could,” he said. “And my other desire to run Cup races is be able to have that baseline in the Next Gen car. I’ve been through this sport, tested the COT for Hendrick and been through rules package changes. If you can be a driver on the leading edge of new things, it just helps to be one of the first guys driving them. The Next Gen is incredible that NASCAR took the step to standardize the hardware side. There’s still going to be differences in how the cars run because there are humans that operate them.
“But it’s really cool and new it’s not happening in the manufacturing side of things. The parts and components are ideally all the same. A team like Spire is attractive and Kaulig because they can attract talent to organizations that maybe they would have had a harder time in the past. I don’t know how level the playing field will be off the bat, but over time, I think it really will level itself out.”
In the biz we call that a Rolling Billboard https://t.co/zdiMC3ttqx
— landon cassill (@landoncassill) January 4, 2022
Perhaps that could mean Landon 5.0 and a winning breakthrough to reward a devoted fan base that has helped him grind through NASCAR.
“I do feel I’ve earned a lot,” Cassill said. “I’ve made it this long in my career without some gravy train paying the way. I’ve always sort of had to make it happen. I am very proud of that and the fans I’ve built along the way. I have my core fans who are so excited to root for me, and I want to deliver a win for them. But there are a lot of younger fans that maybe don’t know about me between 2011-16.
“Those fans may not fully know the Landon Cassill story or appreciate it or support it. So hopefully I can also show them what kind of person I am but do it by running up front and being seen on TV and talked about more.”