Landon Cassill has spent eight years in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but the road to where he is today was a long and tough road. Despite the road being tough, Cassill still has the same humor and wit as when he came into the sport, but is still humble.
Cassill believes his biggest challenge in becoming a professional race car driver was remaining disciplined. That discipline has moved into every aspect of his life from being a father and husband and balancing that with being a driver.
Over the course of his Cup career, Cassill has been with second-tier teams not running up front, but that has not become what drives him today. What drives Cassill is the “my plan and my agenda and my schedule and my goals and knowing that I’m doing everything I can to be the best professional race car driver I can be for my car owner, who hired me to do this job, my sponsors who essentially hired me to do this job, and my family who is relying on me to provide for them.” Cassill believes that helps him have high confidence with his career.
Despite being an eight-year veteran, Cassill feels pretty young in his career because he started out start-and-parking and testing cars for organizations. Cassill feels like this puts him in an unique position because he has “a lot of experience and 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 believes that 2017 will require “hard work”, especially with this new format. He believes that being one of the “outliers” in this format because “our points position is higher than maybe our average finish – where we can kind of leapfrog some guys because we use strategy midway through these races to collect six or eight or 10 points at a time.”
Cassill feels like being a NASCAR driver is the “first stage” of his life. Cassill is content and excited for the rest of his career, and what his career after being a race car driver holds whether it is selling cars with his dad or the continuation of playing a role in the industry.
Throughout Josh Wise’s eight year Sprint Cup career, he has raced for several lower budget teams, including The Motorsports Group in 2016.
In 146 career starts at NASCAR’s top level, Wise has a best career finish of 10th coming last season at Talladega. Since then he’s raced for four different race teams in 33 races.
Owned by Curtis Key, The Motorsports Group is in its second year of existence at the Cup Series level. In 2012, Wise and the team ran 22 events in the XFINITY Series, finishing 33rd in the championship standings.
According to Wise, 2016 has been about building for the future. Every little amount of speed that the team can find will benefit them down the road.
“Expectations for us are just based on our execution of the weekend,” Wise told Speedway Digest. Obviously, you look at where you’re starting, where you want to be and you create some sort of plan to get there. It’s all about the execution of that plan. If you don’t end up where you want to be then that’s something you reevaluate. For us, those steps are simple. It’s about practice and making changes the right way and communicating well, spending time with Dave [Fuge, crew chief] going over what I feel like the car needs.”
Including Wise, The Motorsports Group has seven full-time employees, the lowest amount at the Cup Series level. He also believes that his team is a long ways away from being in a position to run in the top 20 on a weekly basis, admitting that compared to other small teams in the garage, TMG is “microscopic.”
The team has competed in 18 of the 22 races this season, missing all three restrictor plate events and the Brickyard 400 last month. Finishes like a season-high 24th-place at Kentucky are a step in the right direction for the organization.
“Those are weekends that the morale is naturally higher,” Wise said. “As much as I try to keep the guys on focusing on our jobs, trying to improve and find gaps that are within us, you still get caught up in the board and what it says with what position you are and where you finished. It looks a little more optimistic than it really is at times.”
Whenever the team finishes in the 20s, it’s a small victory for the organization. Wise has been among the top 30 in three races this season Kentucky, Watkins Glen and Pocono.
“It’s a bit of a cliché statement, but it’s a David and Goliath scenario,” Wise said of his team. “Those finishes are wins for us for sure. Even weekends where we finish 32nd, if we do a good job and execute well and out race some cars with a fast racecar its worth it. At the last Pocono race we finished 34th, but I went home and I was really exciting because every time we hit the track we made some sort of gain on our cars and learned a tremendous amount in going toward the right direction.”
At the bigger tracks such as Pocono, there are some laps that TMG is faster in the race than they are in qualifying, something that Wise also believes the team can build on.
Missing a race for TMG isn’t the worst thing in the world. Wise is a racer and he will compete in anything, giving 100 percent on the race track, but the psyche of the team can rise with a solid car that doesn’t make the feature event.
“I’m getting excited about the direction that we are going and I feel like at Indy, we learned a lot there,” Wise said. “We missed the race, but we had an extremely good car just to have a fuel pump go out in qualifying. It’s just a total misfortune, not meant to be type thing. I was disappointed that we missed the race, but it was sort of out of our control, we had a lift pump go out, but I was excited that the car drove so well.”
Like many of the big teams in present day NASCAR, TMG has started off small, hoping it pays off down the road. Though comparing TMG to BK Racing is like BK Racing being compared to Hendrick Motorsports, Wise believes that in order to take the next step the team needs to find sponsorship.
TMG has had zero sponsorship at all in eight of the 18 races they’ve competed in this season. With the start-and-park era all but gone from NASCAR, Wise has an average finish of 34.6 this season, which is better than his 2013 season competing primarily for Front Row Motorsports.
“I think you always want more,” Wise said of his situation. “Contentment is a choice. You can choose to be content, but you can choose to continue to apply yourselves to do more. I think there is room for both ends of it and that’s where I’m at. Yeah, I want to run for a bigger and better team with a better opportunity or try and win an XFINITY race, but I’m not doing that, I’m here. I’m not caught up in the fact that I’m not there. I’m doing the best that I can.”
One thing that Wise has always had is the support from the fans. In 2014, competing for Phil Parsons Racing, Reddit, an online community fully backed the California native in his pursuit of making the All-Star Race. He won the fan vote, making it into his first career All-Star event.
At the time 2014 looked to be a turning point in Wise’s career. Missing just the second race of the season at Phoenix, the 33-year-old had 14 finishes in the top 30, the most he’s ever accumulated. Much of his success came from the fans.
“It means a lot,” Wise said of the fan support. “It’s a strange thing for me because I’m not naturally a public person. I have to try and work at that end of it. I shy away from fans because I don’t like being admired. I’m just like a normal guy who happens to drive racecars. I don’t think that I’m anything special. I was given a great gift by God to do what I do and have the ability to do well at the opportunity.”
Not knowing his future is a hard thing on Wise. Racing for TMG is one of those handshake deals that could end at any moment. The plan for now is to make it through the 2016 season and go from there.
“It’s almost as good as any piece of paper that I’ve ever had a contract with,” Wise said.
I guess anybody will tell you that a contract is not worth the paper that they are written on. We have that commitment though this season and work hard every week at it.”
The main priority for the tri-athlete is to one day compete in an elite car, winning races on a consistent basis. But for now it’s about surviving, hoping that he sees that day.
Off the race track, Wise swims, runs and bikes training his body to perform in the racecar. Becoming good friends with six-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson as well as Trevor Bayne and Landon Cassill has sparked a fire under him.
Working out in a mental train of thought, otherwise known as a triathlon is something that translates over to the track for Wise..
“That’s something that I pushed into more recently where you build fitness eventually and then you are able to do more fitness above what the racecar demands,” Wise said of his training. “There are barriers that you can break down in your mind with intense fitness sessions and intense races that kind of directly lead to the racecar with the intensity and sometimes the frustration and mental fatigue of all of it.”
At every town on the circuit, Wise has a place he likes to do his training. Whether it’s a bike route that leads to a coffee shop downtown or a swim that leads lunch on the lake, he fully believes that pushing your body to the limit helps a driver perform.
“What happened was, I started wearing heart rate monitor and my heart rate monitor looks similar to if I were to run a marathon,” Wise elaborated on. “My heart rate goes into an aerobic rate where it’s a steady rate on your body and it’s physical. It’s the heat, it’s the movement and it’s the G-force that elevates your heart rate. I believe that anyone that is driving a racecar for more than an hour needs to be doing some sort of endurance exercise.”
Last year both Wise and Cassill competed in the Iron Man 70.3 World Championship in Zell Am See-Kaprun, Austria.
Wise finished 1,016th overall, completing the circuit in 5 hours, 13 minutes and 4 seconds. Cassill topped him by just seven minutes, finishing 867th.
But in the end it all goes back to racing.
“I feel that I’m an underrated racecar driver,” Wise said. “I’m way better than anybody realizes. Maybe that’s somewhere where I don’t undervalue myself. I think that on any given day I can get in somebody’s racecar or anybody can get in my racecar and I can perform with or better than any racecar driver out there. It’s something I’m very confident in.”
While it’s hard to showcase his talent at TMG, Wise likes to overachieve, proving that he is one of the best drivers in the world. He’s not going to allow driving for a small team hurt his chances to make it in NASCAR.
“Our sport is a team sport, almost more than any other sport,” he said of his situation. “There are so many hands that touch every part on that car and every part is so important. It’s kind of being between a rock and a hard place sometimes with where I am. I feel like I can do a lot more, but you are limited a little bit and you are doing the best you can.”
Landon Cassill currently sits 28th in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points. At the halfway point of the season, he has an average start of 31.1 with an average finish of 25.8. In his 1st season with Front Row, Cassill currently has zero DNF’s, and 20 laps led in 2016. Cassill conducted an exclusive interview with Speedway Digest on the state of motorsports and his season:
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t forget what got you here and wherever you are at.
In general, where do you see the state of motorsports?
I think there is growth opportunity to reach a new generation. I’m really motivated about that.
What ways do you believe the motorsports industry can reach the millennial generation?
I think in how we deliver our message; what platforms we do that. I think they’ve responded well. You look at what channels other sports are doing well with. the NBA is just killing it on social media, the NFL live broadcasting on twitter, things like that. I think those are opportunities for NASCAR to tell our story, while still having an extremely powerful broadcast partner for our mainstay fan base.
Do you see social media as a way to promote yourself and Front Row Motorsports?
Yeah. I don’t even know if it’s from the verbiage of promoting. I think it is just a matter of giving our story out there, who we are, what we do, a way to show our message because sometimes our message doesn’t always get delivered on Sunday afternoon on a live broadcast. To be quiet honest, we’re working seven days a week on this program, I think social media has provided us a platform to share a story everyday of the week on what is going on behind the team, not just on Sunday.
What percentage of on and off track dealings help with yours and Front Row’s brand?
It’s probably 50-50. Even though you see me on the racetrack Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything on the competition side. Its spending time in our competition meetings, time in simulator, studying my data, and in between all that is time invested in what the megaphone social media is.
What motivates you as a Sprint Cup Series driver?
I really want to win. That is an extreme motivation. Sometimes we don’t always have a piece with a look at winning, but also winning in our own respects. There is a way to have a successful weekend without ending up in victory lane. Sometimes that is a moving target, but I think being able to identify that target on a weekly basis is important.
As we enter into the second half of 2016, how would you rate your season so far? I don’t think I could ever give it an A+ until we are on the main table in Las Vegas, I guess, but I am definitely happy where I am at with Front Row. I appreciate the energy this team has behind me. They have a lot of belief in me, i appreciate that. I keep looking at it one week at a time.
In the first part of 2016, what do you see as your strengths and weaknesses going into the second half? I think our strengths are that we raced really well, reliable for the most part, and we’ve had a couple rough finished like Daytona and Pocono, but we haven’t beat ourselves too much, which has been a very good thing for this team. The weaknesses we might have are things we can control, like the speed of the car, quality of our car on the weekend. Donnie and I can put out heads together and work harder to make the car faster. As long as we’re having consistent races without minimal mistakes, i think we will be able to reap the benefits.
What are your goals for the second half of 2016? Just to continue to improve on our average finish, to finish every race, to keep the car clean, that way we can continue to improve on it.
At the end of the day, what do you want your legacy to be with the fans and among drivers? I really want to be able to be in a position where i can lead the way in how our drivers are interacting with fans and the value we bring to our corporate partners. This sport has so much access, a rabid loyal fan base, that increases demand for the personalities in the sport to service that loyalty. We are not just in and out performers where we drop the mic. We really have to service or fan base, service our sponsors.
Where does the Driver’s Council play into the future of the sport? Hopefully, it can really move the needle. I think its important that the driver’s have a voice. I’m glad there is some sort of structure in place to have that voice. It’s done well in influencing some competition related things. I think it can expand into the actual business model.
What are some ways you and Front Row can tap into bringing that value to the sponsors? I think finding ways that tell our story beyond Sunday afternoon. Finding ways to show our fans, people who follow the 38 car, give them a piece of something to follow every single day of the week, not just on Sundays.
In a day that was filled with hard racing, big crashes and barrel rolls, Brad Keselowski came out victorious in Talladega.
Arguably, Keselowski had the strongest racecar on Sunday leading a race-high 46 laps. After a mid-race pit stop that forced his hand and go toward the rear of the top 10 the last 20 laps, the No. 2 car established itself as the one to beat.
“This Fusion was hauling,” Keselowski said. “That’s one of the tickets of staying out of the wrecks at Talladega is if you can stay up front, you have a great shot of not getting in a wreck. Daytona didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We just didn’t have the speed, but the guys went to work and brought me a really strong car here for Talladega.”
This is Keselowski’s fourth-career win at NASCAR’s biggest track, the most he has at any one track.
After leading 12 laps early on, Kyle Busch came home second. He was getting a huge shove coming to the white flag, but Keselowski blocked, settling the No. 18 car for the runner-up position.
Austin Dillon posted a career best third-place finish after making 15 pit stops throughout the day. Just passed halfway, David Gilliland got into the rear of the No. 3 machine turning him into the outside causing the first big crash of the day that saw rookie Chris Buescher flip multiple times.
“What we’ve really been focused on going forward is trying not to panic,” Dillon said of his day. “They fixed the car and what a run to the finish. Our car probably wasn’t good enough to really win the race, but it was good enough for the No. 1 to push me all the way through [Turns] 3 and 4.”
Jamie McMurray notched his best finish of 2016 with a fourth-place result. The former winner at Talladega never led, but pushed several cars to the lead throughout the 500 miles.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott led 27 laps and notched his third top-five finish of the young season. After leading much of the opening stint of the event, the No. 24 car fell back throughout the day, but came on strong in the final three laps.
“You can’t have a good day unless you finish,” Elliott said. “I think it was just focusing in on that and obviously it got really wild and for us we tried to keep that in mind to try and make it to the end.”
Tony Stewart was credited with a sixth-place finish, though Ty Dillon drove the No. 14 Chevrolet to the checkered flag. After the first caution on Lap 50, the XFINITY Series regular replaced the three-time Cup Series champion behind the wheel.
The Cup veteran admitted that “it sucked” having to get out of the racecar, but it was part of the deal to get him back in the car last weekend in Richmond.
Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Michael Waltrip, Cole Whitt, Bobby Labonte and the aforementioned Gilliland all posted season best finishes on Sunday.
The biggest incident of the afternoon came with 28 laps to go when Kurt Busch got into the rear of Jimmie Johnson spinning him into the wall, causing a 17 car crash. Daytona 500 winner, Denny Hamlin was one of the drivers involved in the accident.
With eight laps to go Michael McDowell, spun Danica Patrick, clipping the side of Matt Kenseth’s machine and causing him to flip into the inside fence. The No. 20 car was one of the strongest racecars throughout the day leading 39 laps, finishing a disappointing 23rd.
Coming to the checkered flag was the last crash that saw 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick get airborne, hitting the outside retaining wall. Eight cars came across the checkered flag with damage due to this incident.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne all finished toward the rear with each driver had multiple problems at the 2.66-mile track.
In all, 33 out of the 40 cars received some kind of damage throughout the wildest race of the season to date.
The Cup Series will head to the Midwest for some night racing next Saturday in Kansas, with Johnson the defending winner. It was the controversy in the fall that led to the Kenseth and Joey Logano drama that saw its latest chapter on Sunday when the No. 22 car forced the No. 20 Toyota below the yellow line.
After the event had concluded Kenseth pointed his finger out of displeasure at Logano, where the 25-year-old shrugged his shoulders and chuckled.
For the second consecutive week Carl Edwards will lead the Sprint Cup Series to the green flag after winning the pole at Bristol Motor Speedway. On Friday afternoon, the No. 19 car posted a lap of 127.997 mph. that earned the Joe Gibbs Racing team the first starting position.
“This place is really complicated,” Edwards said. “My guys did a really good job making the car drive well on all different segments. You drive into the corner and these things just take off and slide. Dave [Rogers, crew chief] and everybody did a really great job. It’s really cool to get this pole.”
Edwards has three career wins at the world’s fastest half-mile, the most recent coming in this race two years ago.
Alongside Edwards is his teammate at JGR, Matt Kenseth. The No. 20 Toyota laid down a lap at 127.419 mph. which was .068 seconds off the pole winning time.
Kenseth won both the pole and the 500-lap event last spring, ending a 51-race winless streak. In all three rounds the No. 20 car was among the top five on speeds, which gives him confidence heading into Sunday.
“We were just a little off,” Kenseth said. “The first round we were pretty good. The second round we tried to make it better and got it a little too tight and in the third round we were just too loose. Overall, it was a great day and we’ll get a great pit spot to start.”
Breaking up the JGR parade in the top five was two-time Bristol winner Joey Logano. The No. 22 Ford was quickest in the first round, second in round two and finished third in the final round.
Denny Hamlin will begin Sunday’s event from fourth, after posting the quickest time in opening practice on Friday morning. Just behind him on the starting grid is the fourth JGR driver Kyle Busch.
The Toyota organization dominated Friday at Bristol, at a track where the four JGR drivers have a combined 13 victories.
Jamie McMurray was the first driver not to advance to the final round of qualifying and will start 13th on Sunday after having a top five speed in practice. Ryan Blaney is the highest starting rookie in 18th, with fellow Rookie of the Year competitor Chase Elliott just behind in 19th.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start 20th on Sunday following a tight condition where the left front dragged through the center of the corner. The No. 88 Chevrolet was seventh in the opening practice session Friday Morning.
In the first round Ty Dillon hit the apron of the track coming off of Turn 2, spinning down the backstretch, sliding into the right rear of Landon Cassill’s No. 38 machine.
Cassill had already posted a lap and will lineup 28th on Sunday as opposed to Dillon’s 34th quickest lap. The contact left the No. 14 car with heavy right side damage just behind the front fender. NASCAR allowed the team to change four tires after flat spotting the original tires on the Chevrolet.
Every team made the event as there were 40 cars for 40 positions. The Food City 500 is slated to begin shortly after 1:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.