Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Under the Spotlight: Phoenix Racing's Landon Cassill Earns Career Best Finish at Michigan

Cassill walks around across pit road at Pocono
Karel Zubris for Skirts and Scuffs

This season the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been full of the unexpected. With 10 different winners in the past 14 races and the change of the series point system, race results have been pretty unpredictable.

In Sunday’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway, no one, including Landon Cassill himself, expected to see the No. 51 running in the top 15 for much of the race.

For a driver like Cassill, who drives the No. 51 Security Benefit/Thank a Teacher Today Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing, owned by James Finch, simply crossing the finish line on the lead lap is a great accomplishment for the team.

Up until this season, the 21-year-old driver, who was the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year and is a former Hendrick Motorsports Development Driver, was barely able to finish a race, let alone compete with some of the highest funded teams in the sport.

Sunday’s race at Michigan marked the one-year anniversary of Cassill’s competing in the Cup Series.

Last season, Cassill competed in 16 races and had 15 DNFs with an average finish of 39.5 compared to this year’s 31.1.

The last couple of years have been start-and-parks for Cassill, but driving for Phoenix Racing in the same car that was previously driven by Bill Elliott (formerly the No. 09) has provided Cassill with much needed seat-time and the exposure he needs to gain the attention of his peers and higher level Cup teams.

The full-time ride has also helped Cassill to remain consistent and keep Phoenix Racing within the top 35 in owners’ points.

Before Sunday’s race, Cassill had not finished higher than 24th this season and on Sunday he managed to finish 12th in his best career finish. He also started the race in the 12th position, qualifying ahead of other Team Chevy drivers such as Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It was great and we were really fast at some parts of the race and we kept getting the balance on one side or the other and we had a little bit of racer luck there that put us in position to put us on four tires there at the end and that is what made it for us and that was awesome,” said Cassill following Sunday’s race at Michigan.

He also had a good start in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega starting from the 6th position, although he ended up finishing 31st. Just a couple of weeks ago at Pocono, Cassill lead a few laps late in the race and despite finishing 25th, he was happy to say that he actually lead a race in the Cup Series, something that didn’t seem possible this time last year.

"Right now my goals are to stay in the car every week and keep building with this team,” Cassill said in a recent interview. "There really are no guarantees in this sport right now with the way the economy is. Right now we’ve got to exceed expectations as much as possible and put as much (confidence) in my team that they know I can do it."

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