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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Track position is a valuable thing — even at a restrictor plate track like Daytona International Speedway.
Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill got another example of why on Thursday night during the first Can-Am Duel 150 qualifying race in his No. 34 Ford. After working his way to the front, he found himself bottlenecked in the middle lane of a three-wide gaggle of cars and nowhere to go.
A 15th-place finish in Duel 1 behind winner Chase Elliott sets him up to start 27th in Sunday’s Daytona 500 — and also gives him some things to think about for the next few days.
“Not much changed (from the first run to the end) other than track position, really. We got in the back and just couldn’t get up through to the front,” Cassill said. “I tried to get behind the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) at the end, but he was blocked in front and couldn’t go anywhere. It was kind of a gridlock. I feel like my car is fast. It’s faster than what we had last year, for sure. I’d like to get it handling better.”
Cassill started 14th in the first qualifying race of the night, and drove his way to as high as third — running between fifth and seventh for the majority of the opening laps — before four tires on the pit stop at lap 25 for the competition caution reversed much of that work and put him in that track position situation.
Using both lanes to work his way forward, Cassill bounced between different drafting partners in that opening segment.
The combination of some of the way the racing unfolded in front of him, plus a slight shift in handling was what made another run to the front a more difficult ask.
“I wanted to get up there and wanted to get up front, and it did (work out),” Cassill said. “I felt like it didn’t handle as well at the end of the race as it did in the beginning, for sure. Some holes opened up for me and I was able to get up there, and I wanted to keep that track position if I could.”
While Cassill had an up and down Duel position-wise, his fellow Cedar Rapids native Joey Gase had a team agenda he had to stick to in order to get his teammate, Corey LaJoie, qualified for Sunday’s 59th Daytona 500.
In the first laps he’d ever turned in the draft in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car, Gase said he got comfortable pretty quickly. As in, as soon as he clicked the shield closed on his helmet visor and heard, “green, green, green,” from his spotter to start the race.
“Right when it went green. Right when it goes green, for me at least, you forget about all the maybes and just do what’s at hand,” Gase said.
Gase finished 17th after starting 20th, and will start 29th in Sunday’s race, but most importantly drafting with LaJoie helped get all the BK Racing cars into the race. He got his first laps under his belt and learned about his racecar. Gase did sustain a small bit of damage to the nose of his No. 23 Toyota, but nothing he’s concerned about.
“It went, really, pretty good. We’re pretty happy. The car sucked up well, even if I was the last car in line, and that’s what we were worried about. We’re pleased,” Gase said. “We weren’t really aggressive (at the end), but we had to be aggressive until the 55 (Reed Sorenson) spun, to try to keep Corey up there. That was our main goal, to try to keep Corey up there. I’m pleased. The 83 got in. It would’ve been perfect if we didn’t get any damage, but it’s not a big deal. We’ll get that fixed up and we should be good.”
With starting spots set, both Cassill and Gase now get to focus on what will be a much more difficult task on Sunday — for a few reasons.
Cassill’s car seems to have made a shift from last year’s Speedweeks, when he said the car handled great but lacked speed. Now it’s a bit of the opposite.
An example: Cassill had a moment off Turn 4 where his car broke loose — like Jimmie Johnson’s in his spin during the Clash on Sunday.
“It was a similar feel. I felt it a couple of times in the race where I had to catch it. Hopefully we can just adjust for it,” Cassill said. “(We learned) just a little bit about how the car needs to handle. It’s going to be a lot worse on Sunday. We definitely have some work to do on the handling side.”
For Gase, Friday will mark a full day of practice between both his Cup car and his Xfinity car.
Knowing the sun will make a big difference in handling makes the agenda pretty easy.
“Sunday will be a completely different story when it’s sunny out. The car will be, I’m sure, a little more of a handful,” Gase said. “(We’ll) probably do a little drafting during the daylight when it’s hotter out so we can see what it’s like, what it does in the sun.
“Hopefully we get the Best Home Furnishings car good for Sunday and get started working on the Xfinity car for Sunday, too.”
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