Landon Cassill has been in this position before. Unfortunately, that position on Tuesday was uncertainty, and for now, no ride in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of this season.
Cassill and Front Row Motorsports confirmed Tuesday the 28-year-old Cedar Rapids native would not be back with the organization in 2018, ending a two-year stint with the Bob Jenkins-owned race team. It’s a situation he’s faced a few times in his career, so Cassill was as upbeat as a person could be in that scenario when reached by phone by The Gazette following a test at Martinsville.
But he acknowledged the awkwardness and immense frustration of a day like Tuesday, where the racing world finds out his bad news while he’s still at work.
Cassill said — as guys like Kasey Kahne and Michael McDowell have found out already this year in being given the same news by Hendrick Motorsports and Levine Family Racing, respectively — it’s part of the sport. He also said he feels like he gave 100 percent to his team and sought ways to be the best racecar driver he could be.
The question then becomes, is dealing with it all — the stress, the pressure; the good and the bad — still worth it?
“That’s a fantastic question,” Cassill said. “You don’t just ask yourself that question on days like this. You ask yourself that question after you’re cross-eyed after hitting the wall and then another car and getting spun around. You ask yourself that question after you ran 35th all day and didn’t feel like you knew what you were doing out there. Sometimes you ask yourself that question when you had a great day, did everything you could and finished 15th and it’s amazing and realize all you did was finish 15th. There’s so many challenges in this sport that force you to ask yourself that question.
“If the answer to that is, ‘No,’ then I wouldn’t be pursuing another opportunity or thinking about it. I think sometimes the really good days are a great reminder of how wonderful it is to drive a racecar for a living. As a racecar driver, I just hope I can put myself back in position to have those types of days.”
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Cassill has 253 career Cup Series starts dating back to 2010, making him far more tenured than some might expect.
He has a career average finish of 29.4 with a best finish of fourth at Talladega in 2014. This season, his best finish was 16th at the season-opening Daytona 500. His best finish in two seasons at FRM was 11th at Talladega in spring 2016.
Cassill has driven for several teams in NASCAR, most notably Hendrick Motorsports as an 18 year-old, BK Racing, Hillman Racing and FRM. In every scenario, he’s bucked the trend of the last 10 years in which many drivers come to teams with a major sponsor or financial backing, which secured them the ride. Cassill was under contract with his last three full time Cup teams, as well as JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.
With the news so fresh, Cassill said Tuesday he’s not sure what’s in store for next season. None of the sponsors at FRM are leaving with him, so it’s basically him and his helmet bag looking for a ride.
Cassill said all the teams in the garage know him, his talent and his situation, and they know who has money to bring and who doesn’t. That means the teams he’ll talk to “know my deal,” and it’ll be worth both sides’ time.
“Obviously it’s getting tight and deals have to be coming together soon, but I think I will have opportunities just based on the initial reaction I’ve had and the people I’ve talked to already,” Cassill said. “It’s a matter of putting myself with people I trust, I like; that I’m going to enjoy working with and are going to push me and give me that road map to where I want to end up.
“These guys know if they need a driver, if they need a real professional driver that they have to pay and have expectations on the performance and are going to work together to build a better team, they know I’m in that category.”
FRM issued a statement Tuesday that said, “we’re thankful for the last two years having Landon as a teammate and an ambassador for our sponsors, and we’ll keep working hard with him and the No. 34 team for the best possible results the remainder of the 2017 season.”
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Cassill said he found out Monday on a phone call with FRM general manager Jerry Freeze and that while it was “not the phone call I was expecting,” he also understands this time of year and that “I can’t say anything is expected in this sport.”
His two years at FRM have come with viral Twitter campaigns among his cult following, including “#38Nice” and the current one of fans going to Love’s Travel Stops, his current sponsor, and tweeting to Cassill wondering where he is. Cassill also started the trend of Facebook Live Q&As following races, since made increasingly popular by drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In the face of this situation, it would be hard for anyone not to be angry, and Cassill acknowledged as much while still expressing gratitude for an opportunity.
“I think anybody that’s had to go look for a job has had a hard time not being angry,” Cassill said. “I felt like there were definitely times this year that I was frustrated with the result or that there was nothing more I could do. I felt like we had some good runs this year, but we also had times that were frustrating or had tough luck and things that prevented us from scoring the way we wanted to score. It’s hard to have any regrets. I feel like this year I’ve tried harder than I’ve ever tried to make sure what I was giving was accurate and repeatable for my team so they could take that information and develop the car.
“But I’m also very grateful. I thought I did a good job for Love’s Travel Stops. I’m grateful for the experience. I think it did a lot for me.”
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