DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If nothing else, the 2017 Daytona 500 was eventful for Cedar Rapids natives Landon Cassill and Joey Gase.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers were apart of three of the four multicar wrecks in the final stage of the 59th Great American Race — and when they ended up parked next to one another on pit road after the race, the high-speed duct tape covering various parts of their cars bared witness to that.
Cassill ended up 16th — his second best finish in the Daytona 500 — and Gase was 23rd in his first Daytona 500 behind winner Kurt Busch. Both sort of gave a shoulder shrug when they got out of the car. Sunday’s race capped off a wreck-filled Speedweeks.
“The way this race started, I thought it was going to be easy going until the end, and then we started to wad them up like crazy,” Gase said. “A lot of them were after the segments, too. So I don’t know what was going on. Our plan was to race harder after the segments. But maybe everyone did this time. I don’t know.”
The new stage format that NASCAR implemented for the start of this season took a lot of the heat on social media, but both Cassill and Gase said there really was no answer for the reason behind all the wrecks — across the Clash, the Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup races at Daytona.
The first stage was fairly calm, while the second saw a wreck sparked by a flat tire from Kyle Busch that took out his teammate Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones, Ty Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. In the first stage, both Cedar Rapids drivers took it fairly easy; not really mixing it up or driving too hard to work their way forward, all in an effort to save their cars.
Cassill nearly finished in a points-paying position to end Stage 2, and liked how the end of the race was setting up in terms of his car and positioning.
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Then, at Lap 129, the carnage ensued. Cassill nearly avoided the first big wreck, ducking to the apron, but was hit in the right side door.
“I just kind of wanted to let those stages play out. We found ourselves in position to maybe score a couple points after the second stage, which I thought was really good. … I felt like we were setting up for a good position at the end to compete at the end there,” Cassill said. “I got completely through that (first) wreck and then one last car kind of made a turn toward me. That’s just speedway racing. I’m really happy about how my guys fixed the car and kept me out there and kept me going.”
Cassill was collected in the third big wreck — which happened just 14 laps after the first, and sandwiched a second multicar incident — and that was the blow that slowed his car enough to remove him from contention. He said, “it was too damaged” to keep with the pack and that “I’m just glad we even made it to the end for a race like that.”
He almost didn’t get the chance to keep going due to the new five-minute crash damage fix rule that forces teams to complete their work on pit road in five minutes during a given caution period, and then the car must meet minimum speed when the race resumes.
NASCAR initially declared the No. 34 team had exceeded that limit in the second big wreck, while crew chief Donnie Wingo objected. Cassill was eventually cleared — as the field was coming to the restart — and he was able to finish the race.
“It’s a little frustrating because I knew we should not have been DQd. Like, no question. So it’s very tough to negotiate with NASCAR during the race because they have so many other things going on in the tower,” Cassill said. “I was glad they took the time and looked at that with one to go because that would’ve been an awful way to end a race. It’s an interesting new rule, and I’m sure they learned a lot too.”
Gase, who laughed at the coincidence of his No. 23 car finishing 23rd, finished his second race of the weekend covered in grass — after going through the same stretch of it on the backstretch in both races.
His team had plenty of work to get him back on the track, and he too nearly went over the five-minute allotment for repairs. Gase’s first Daytona 500 was one to remember — if even for odd reasons — and he chalked it up to the unpredictability of restrictor plate racing.
No one knew exactly what to expect, and probably never will.
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“I don’t know what happened. The way everything was happening, with yellows coming out and stuff, it mixed everyone up. Some people were on new tires and some weren’t. But I have no idea (why),” Gase said. “You just never know what to expect at superspeedways. Sometimes there’s no wrecks, hardly, and sometimes they’re wreckfests. All four races in Speedweeks besides the Duels were wreckfests.
“But, hey, we got 23rd, which isn’t too bad for my first 500 — and we’re No. 23, so that’s cool.”
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