SPORTS

Kansas Speedway provides a learning day for Cassill, Gase

Cedar Rapids drivers take away a few lessons from SpongeBob SquarePants 400

Cedar Rapids natives Landon Cassill (40) and Joey Gase get strapped into their cars before the SpongeBob SquarePants 400
Cedar Rapids natives Landon Cassill (40) and Joey Gase get strapped into their cars before the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, May 9, 2015. (Jeremiah Davis/The Gazette)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Saturday night was a long one at Kansas Speedway. A rain delay of more than two hours pushed the finish of the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 well past midnight.

And over those 400 miles and nearly six hours from the green flag to the checkered flag that fell on six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, a lot was learned by drivers and teams not fighting for the win.

Cedar Rapids natives Landon Cassill and Joey Gase were among that crowd, finishing 29th, two laps down, and 38th, five laps down, respectively. In contrast to how the weekend started — for Cassill, especially — the learning process paid off.

“We made a lot of gains on the car, it was just really hit or miss at times trying to get it right,” Cassill said. “There were times in the race we showed the speed we look for on a weekly basis. It was a good way to finish the weekend compared to how it started out. Pretty happy with it.”

Throughout much of the race, Cassill and his Hillman Racing team took big swings at the car. As with every race, he and his crew chief Mark Hillman were constantly talking back and forth about the changed and behavior of the car.

Cassill showed speed on a few select runs that placed his lap times among the lead-lap cars, but he said that was definitely the exception in the big picture of the race,

“Sometimes it’s a false sense of encouragement when you’re running lap times that are top 20 because it depends on what line you’re running; you might’ve caught something for 10 laps nobody else did,” Cassill said. “At the end of the day, we’re looking for a top-20 quality car — a car that can run top 20 on restarts; on every run, not just one run.”

For Gase, the learning came in simply logging laps.

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Saturday marked just his sixth start in the Sprint Cup Series, and comfort behind the wheel in this car still is a work-in-progress.

“We learned a lot,” Gase said. “We were good at the beginning. In the second half of the race, we were pretty good rim-riding. We were better than a lot of the guys in the low-30s, but we could never catch a break.

“I think this is the best we ever ran (during the race) besides maybe Richmond (last year) but we had zero luck. I felt really comofrotable in this car today and tonight, especially rim-riding and stuff. I felt good at it, that we were faster than a lot of guys by doing it.”

Going forward, one of the biggest lessons learned was by Cassill and his team in regards to the car they brought to Kansas. It did not perform well — Cassill called it “absolutely garbage” on Friday — at Las Vegas.

With the struggles they had with it this weekend, it’s highly unlikely this chassis returns to a 1.5-mile track any time soon.

“I think we’re going to take this one to Sonoma,” Cassill said. “This isn’t going to be one of our best mile-and-a-half cars, so we’re probably going to make it a road course car.”

Cassill and his Hillman Racing team will enter their No. 40 in the Sprint Showdown, the qualifier for the Sprint All-Star Race, next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He’ll then fly to Newton to race in next Sunday’s 3M 250 at Iowa Speedway.

Gase will be back in his No. 52 Jimmy Means Racing car at Iowa Speedway as well, while hoping he gets another shot in the Cup Series with the GoFas Racing team.

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“I’m not sure when the next time we’ll run with them,” Gase said. “Hopefully soon.”

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

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