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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The 2014 NASCAR season has typified Landon Cassill’s career.
• It started with the highest point of the Cedar Rapids native’s Sprint Cup career to that date, a 12th place finish in the Daytona 500 and announcement of a pair of new sponsors.
• Failing to qualify for the races in Phoenix and Las Vegas.
• Rebounding with a career-best 11th at Talladega a week ago.
Bottom line is the experience he’s had in going from a local star, to NASCAR prodigy, to out of work, to now has given him the tools to handle whatever comes his way.
“Daytona was an incredible high — higher than I’ve ever experienced in my career,” Cassill said on Saturday before the race at Kansas Speedway, where he finished 40th after being the victim of a multicar wreck. “The very next two weeks were probably the lowest I’ve ever experienced in my career. But I really didn’t lose sight of how grateful I was and how lucky we are.
“We’re really blessed to have the success we’ve had this year.”
The success early this season hasn’t gone unnoticed. In addition to TV exposure, ESPN.com featured Cassill on a weekly column, wondering if some well-established team would take another chance on the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year.
It’s not often that a young driver gets multiple chances at the top. Especially with the young crop of drivers currently making their way into the best available rides in the garage — Kyle Larson, Austin and Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, etc. — the chances are slim.
But eventually, if he can stick around long enough and help put cars used to running toward the back in the top 15, someone in the garage could make that happen.
“I need to make a living doing this for the next 20 years, and the way I look at it is, I’m 24 years old. I can’t do this for another 20 years without someone saying, ‘We need to give this guy a shot,” Cassill said. “I’m not actually looking at the greener grass. I don’t even think about the greener grass anymore, just because I’m so happy where I’m at.
“Just in terms of looking at my whole career and looking at the opportunity to win races, at some point one of these teams is going to say ‘We’ve got funding, we need an experienced driver that hasn’t had a shot,’ and they’re going to look at me.”
It would be really easy for a guy in Cassill’s situation to be jaded, especially considering he’s lived a NASCAR life well beyond his years. The ceiling on his career was limitless when he signed as a development driver with Hendrick Motorsports in December 2006.
Through circumstances or bad luck, that opportunity never led to a great amount of on-track success. He did get five Cup championship rings as the test driver for Jimmie Johnson during his championship run, though — a significant consolation prize, to be sure.
But rather than be jaded, Cassill looks back on the chance he got and is grateful. He doesn’t see what Chase Elliott is doing in the seat he once occupied for JR Motorsports as any better or worse than what he had, just different.
“There’s a lot of things I would’ve done differently personally, but I look at the opportunity I got, and one of the biggest things that got me more opportunities (elsewhere) was I was able to test for Jimmie for five years,” Cassill said. “You look at what Chase Elliott is doing right now, and it’s just that he’s getting a completely different opportunity than I got. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I don’t regret it. It’s just they made different decisions with him than they made with me. As a result, he’s more successful right now than I was.
“That could be because of his driving ability, but it could be because of the learning experience the organization went through with their development programs.”
After all, JR Motorsports was in its infancy when Cassill joined on.
Not only that, but the way teams handle development drivers is much different from how they were handled when Cassill, Joey Logano and others of that era were being brought along. Teams have learned.
When he was given his first chance, teams were giving the young guys only partial schedules, and Cassill pointed out that none of those drivers “made it.” Knowing that it was partially an industry problem and not a Landon Cassill problem makes it easier to digest and still be grateful.
“There’s a lot of things like that that I look back on, and you just kind of have to be grateful for the opportunity you did get,” Cassill said. “At the end of the day, there are six or eight young drivers right now that are really hot, and six or eight years from now, they may still be here, but they may not be the quality person I am because of what I’ve gone through.”
In the end, it’s nice to wonder what might’ve been and hope for that top-notch opportunity for race wins to come again.
Yet the real win comes from coming out the other side a better person you were than when you went in, and that’s something Cassill can safely say about himself as a husband, father and professional racecar driver.
“Humility is probably the biggest thing you learn. You quickly realize what it means to be a professional racecar driver,” Cassill said. “When you’re 18 and you have some PR rep assigned to do your calendar, you’re doing all the media advances and you’re on all the hot lists and all that stuff; at that age what it means is you’re a celebrity. And you’re treated that way. I’ve learned what it means to be a professional racecar driver is how to provide for my family, and I’ve had to learn how to do things to keep that happening.”
Cassill is next in action on Sunday, when the Nationwide Series comes to Iowa Speedway.
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