The Inside Track by Jeremiah Davis

Landon Cassill finishes season-best 11th in wild Talladega race

Cedar Rapids native avoided two big wrecks, involved in final crash coming to the finish

May 1, 2016; Talladega, AL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17) and AJ A
May 1, 2016; Talladega, AL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17) and AJ Allmendinger (47) and Martin Truex Jr. (78) and Cole Whitt (98) wreck on the last lap during the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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Restrictor plate racing almost always concludes with a passionate response from someone. Fans and the race winner excited, someone who was wrecked upset or angry, others frustrated by the whole concept of it all.

Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway was no different. Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill dodged two big wrecks entirely — one in which he improbably avoided a spinning Martin Truex Jr — and was included in two others, including the final one coming to the finish.

Ultimately he got his best finish of the season, coming him 11th behind winner Brad Keselowski in a beat-up racecar, and had his own eventful day among many.

“Definitely a lot went on in that race for us,” Cassill said via phone to The Gazette. “We went down a lap early and got it back in a really good fashion, driving through a pretty big wreck. … I don’t know what it is (about avoiding the wrecks). I grabbed the wheel pretty hard to the left to pull it dead left and aimed for the apron (to miss Truex). It hit the racetrack so hard, it bottomed out and knocked the toe out. I could hear the tires squealing, I turned so hard to the left.”

Such is life with the modern restrictor plate package NASCAR has for the Sprint Cup Series. Of the 40 cars that entered the race, 33 sustained damage or were included in a wreck.

Danica Patrick took what she said was the hardest hit of her career. Three cars either went on their roof or nearly on their roof — including Cassill’s teammate Chris Buescher, who barrel-rolled four times down the back stretch in a wreck Cassill avoided. Matt Kenseth also went on his head on the back stretch in a wreck in which Cassill sustained some front end damage.

The final wreck of the race came as the cars were headed for the checkered flag. Kevin Harvick made a move to the bottom, and as Cole Whitt tried to follow, Cassill didn’t lift. Cassill and Whitt made contact, spinning Whitt into Harvick, who hit the outside wall hard and nearly went on his roof.

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After the race, in an interview with FOX Sports, Harvick said, “Landon Cassill was trying to cause a wreck for the last 40 laps and he finally got it done there at the end.”

Cassill came over the radio right after crossing the finish line and said, “I might’ve caused that. The 98 (Whitt) came down and I got into him.” As he was leaving the track, he saw Harvick’s comments via Twitter, and essentially laughed them off as it being an emotional reaction from the 2014 series champion.

“It’s a shame because in any other part of the race, either the 98 (Whitt) would’ve given me more room or I would’ve checked up, but when you’re coming to the checkers, nobody’s going to do that,” Cassill said. “You saw the 4 car, Kevin Harvick, wreck the whole field at Daytona last year in very similar fashion. He drove right over the 11 car (Denny Hamlin) and that was the wreck that caused the 3 car (Austin Dillon) to go up in the grandstands. How are you supposed to say that’s anybody’s fault? It’s superspeedway racing, really.

“I don’t really take anything that guy (Harvick) says personally, because he’s got a reputation for being fairly emotional and can’t handle himself. He’ll get over it. Two of the last few superspeedway races ended under a huge wreck because of him. I find it kind of funny he’s mad at me. His reputation is pretty thin-skinned. That’s just who he is.”

Emotions ran high between more than just Harvick and Cassill, too. Kenseth wasn’t pleased with Joey Logano, whom Kenseth said ran him off the track toward the end.

All of it, ultimately, served as a product of the format. Multiple drivers lamented what Daytona and Talladega have become after the race.

“We’ve had this package for a few years now, and it’s probably the longest we’ve gone with any particular superspeedway package,” Cassill said. “I’m probably speaking out of turn more than anything, but NASCAR could probably look at a different package and maybe mix things up at superspeedways. I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s terrible. I hate tearing up racecars and it seems like it’s a recurring theme of having a wreck on the last lap, but it’s always going to happen at superspeedways if you’re three and four wide.”

No matter how beat up his or anyone else’s car was at the end of the day, Cassill and his Front Row Motorsports team left Talladega on a high note.

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Their best finish of the season came with an improved speedway performance that gives Cassill a lot of confidence going into the next one at Daytona International Speedway in July.

“I think our car is pretty good. It definitely has a good feel in it,” Cassill said. “It drafts really well and when the handling goes away — which it wasn’t as much of factor at Talladega, but is something more that makes me have confidence in the car when we go back to Daytona and the handling is a factor. When the handling goes away, I have a good feel in the car.

“It’s torn up a little bit, but they’ll be able to rebuild it. I’m excited to go back to Daytona.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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