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Pedal to the Metal with Landon Cassill (November 2019, Part 1)

As the season winds down, Landon Cassill co-authors his double November journal! (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

As the season winds down, Landon Cassill co-authors his double November journal! (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Landon Cassill, driver of the No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, shares his thoughts on the world of NASCAR, happenings in pop culture, and virtually anything on his mind with his monthly journal!

For part one of Cassill’s November journal, we discuss StarCom Racing’s tremendous strides, upcoming changes to motorsports, and movies!

Rob Tiongson :  Following Darlington, September started off tough at Indy with your hard crash during the Brickyard 400.  However, you recovered to nab four straight top-30 finishes at distinct tracks in Las Vegas, Richmond, the Charlotte ROVAL, and Dover.  How much of a grind is it on those tracks where passing opportunities were tough at each track?

By all means, Cassill expressed pride with StarCom Racing's gains. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

By all means, Cassill expressed pride with StarCom Racing’s gains. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Landon Cassill :  It is tough but I haven’t had that much trouble with passing.  I feel like if you’re faster than the guy in front of you, there’s always a way.  I think that Dover’s just a little bit – it’s probably, it’s probably the tip of the spear, if you wanted to point out as one of the toughest tracks for the aerodynamic effects on passing.

And it’s probably just because the track is so narrow.  You’re going so fast and it’s a small track for how fast you’re going.  Things have to be just right to be able to make a pass there.  Everywhere else, I mean, even Richmond, it’s tough to pass at Richmond, but there’s multiple grooves there.  And I felt like every time I came across a car that I was faster than, I didn’t really struggle to get past them.

Rob Tiongson :  Your perspective is refreshing to hear!  It’s interesting to get your side of this.  Dover was the team’s hometrack race.  And you were on your way to a top-25 finish before some late race problems.  Would you say this is a testament with the team’s commitment towards strong finishes and the desire to be a strong contender in the future?

Landon Cassill :  Yea, I mean it’s great.  I think it shows our progress.  I think our speed compared to the field was almost four or five tenths faster than it was in the spring Dover race.  We definitely accomplished a lot.  I think that Joe (Williams) did a really good job on the car and had it driving better for me from the time that we unloaded.  So, we just had a good solid car from the time we unloaded on that Friday.

It was a solid weekend.  But it was just really unfortunate that we were haunted with fuel pressure issues, which is something that we had in the spring Dover race and some other races in the spring as well.

When we wrecked at Indy, it destroyed a new fuel cell that we had thought to replace our old stuff that we had been running when we had fuel pressure issues.  So, I’m not sure if having to go back to the old fuel cell might’ve brought back some demons that could be in the car.  It may be too early for me to say that because I haven’t debriefed about it with Joe yet.  But regardless, we were all pretty proud of the effort.

Rob Tiongson :  People have taken notice of the progress that you and the team have made.  The effort’s definitely there and the hard work and effort’s been noticed for sure!  October offered fan delight races like Talladega, Kansas, and Martinsville.  Which race would you say that you looked forward to most in terms of your team’s steady improvement this year?

Landon Cassill :  I mean it’s pretty exciting. October was really exciting with the Playoffs and everything.  NASCAR’s done a great job with the schedule.  The schedule next year is really exciting.  There’s definitely a lot of optimism in the future.

Talladega’s a lot of fun.  You never know what’s going to happen.  Obviously, Daytona proved that.  I mean, those races always prove that they never disappoint.  For us, to get the best finish, the first thing we needed was some attrition.

It always helps to knock out some of the faster cars that might’ve had the best chance to win.  That way, at the end of the race, if it came down to eight or ten cars, then you can be one of them and maybe you can restart in the first couple of rows.  You might have one or two fast cars to compete against as opposed to eight or ten.

Rob Tiongson :  That’s a great point as seen at Daytona and Talladega.  It’s possible for sure!

In September, Kyle Busch expressed his displeasure at some drivers in the field, particularly those who didn’t race in late models.  Ryan Daley wanted to get your take on this given how you raced late models prior to making the leap into NASCAR in the mid-2000’s.

Certainly, Landon Cassill provided candid suggestions for late model racing. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Certainly, Landon Cassill provided candid suggestions for late model racing. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Landon Cassill :  Yea, I think late model racing is a great proving ground.  The type of racing is probably the most similar to what you’ll have to experience in NASCAR.  The way that you have to conserve your racecar, your tires, the way you have to pay attention how 100 to 300 lap races plays out, I think that’s definitely a great training ground for that.

Where late models struggles right now is that it doesn’t have the depth.  Even though there’s a lot of competitive racers, it’s hard to race and get some depth and volume in asphalt late model racing for the price that you can do it on dirt.  It’s just really cheap to go dirt racing in relation to late model racing.  So, if that cost could come down a little bit and people could race 60 or 70 times a year, I think that late model racing could be the primary path to NASCAR.

But, since I grew up, during the time period that I went late model racing, we were running our own cars out of a family race team basically.  And so, it was somewhat affordable back then.  You didn’t have to be a professional race team to be competitive in a late model.  And we raced a lot.  We raced almost 60 times a year.

Rob Tiongson :  Interesting that you mention about costs as it leads to my next topic.  NASCAR announced some rules changes ahead of the 2020 season. This includes a limit on chassis, wind tunnel time, at-track rosters, and the number of starts required for full-blocked and small-blocked engines.  What exactly does this bode for race teams and drivers for next year? And how will this help with costs?

Landon Cassill :  As far as next year’s concerned, I think it’s smarter for the whole sport to stick to where it’s at the moment.  I think that the package needs to stay the same for these race teams because of the transition that they’re about to go through in 2021.  I think that if there’s a change in the package, it would just cost too much money and cause more disparity between teams because there’s a lot of teams that would simply have to think a lot further ahead than they normally would on their budgets for 2021 for the transition to the next gen car.

But with that said, I think the next gen car brings a lot of opportunity for the sport.  I think that the better job – the more that NASCAR can standardize the manufacturing of the next gen car, I think the more parity there will be in the sport in the long term.  It may not be right away because I think the car is so different and it’s such a departure from what we’re running now – suspension, tires, aero, everything.

I think that there’s going to be a lot of teams that might run away with it early.  And I think that some of the teams that maybe don’t invest a lot in sharing resources in learning the cars, maybe the teams that it’s all they can do just to get a car and get it to the racetrack, I think they’re going to be farther behind in the first year than they probably were with the current model car.

But I think that after a season, you’ll start to see – I think that you could see some new winners and new fast teams that you’re not used to seeing.  I think that some of the teams that seem to be perpetually stuck between 10th to 20th place are all of a sudden contenders to win three or four times a year.  And I think that the teams that are perpetually stuck outside of the top-30, you might see them in the top-15 more often.

So, the possibilities of that happening are really going to come down to how well NASCAR can manage the transition and keep much of the new car within a tight box as possible.

Rob Tiongson :  This sounds promising!  There’s been some progress but some trial and error of course with the changes to the cars…

Above all, Cassill highlights one of the most important aspects with NASCAR's big changes. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Above all, Cassill highlights one of the most important aspects with NASCAR’s big changes. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Landon Cassill :  It’s not the car change that’s the optimism here.  It’s the model change which is kind of a buzzword that everybody uses.  The biggest flaw, in my mind, from a competition side and our current model, is the fact that the big teams with a lot of resources, engineering resources and manufacturing resources are currently able to not just gain an advantage – which is fine, I mean, it’s a sport, you should be able to gain an advantage – but they can turn around and leverage that advantage against their competitors.

And that’s essentially what a technical alliance is.  It’s where a big team gains a technical advantage.  And then, for the smaller teams to even come close to competing with a big team, instead of investing money on their own technology, they just purchase it from a big team.  So, it gives this big team this really unprecedented amount of leverage over their own competitors by being able to control their competitors’ flow of information and manufacturing capabilities.

With the new car, what it’ll hopefully do, is if by going to a single source manufacturer for as many components as possible, it’ll put the actual hardware on an even playing field and still leave it up to the teams to assemble the hardware and diagnose it and set the cars up.  But the big teams hopefully won’t be able to use that hardware and the manufacturing capabilities that they currently have as a compression tool against their competitors.

Rob Tiongson :  Costs are definitely going up. Anything to modernize the business model of the sport, which has its strengths and weaknesses, could use some fine tuning.

On the lighter side of things, NASCAR Heat 4 was released in September. While it’s not exactly an absolute indicator of actual racing, I feel like it’s pretty much told me that you pretty much do not make friends on the track if you want to be successful.  Have you tried out this year’s game or prior ones? And do you sometimes tease your fellow racers especially with their post-race reaction clips for the player?

Landon Cassill :  I haven’t played the game yet.  But I’ve seen – I know exactly what you’re talking about.  Hopefully, I’ll get some time in the offseason to play it.  So, I’m looking forward to it.  I heard it’s really good so that should be a lot of fun.  I’ve heard it’s really good.

Rob Tiongson :  I was just so surprised with how there’s some difficulties just trying to hold it wide open.  In the past, you of course had to lift into the corners. But I felt like I had to relearn how to race.  It’s funny watching the clips and seeing their genuine reactions.

Well, speaking of some emotions, as you race and serve as an analyst during the year, is it a tricky, slippery slope when networks hype up a prior race’s event such as the skirmish between Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman?

Of course, Cassill understands the balance between competition and entertainment when it comes to NASCAR. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

Of course, Cassill understands the balance between competition and entertainment when it comes to NASCAR. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

Landon Cassill :  No, I don’t think it’s a tricky slope.  I think that this is an entertainment business and I want our networks to use every tool that they have to draw fans and get some excitement.  I guess if you’re willing to put yourself out there and do something like what Bubba did to Alex, then you should be ready to sit in your hauler and watch clips of that on TV over and over again when you’re watching NASCAR on NBC. (laughs) I’m totally OK with it.

I mean, I do think that maybe there could be a little bit of a gray area if it was something that warrants a fine or a suspension just because if you’re being fined or suspended or if it’s a bad thing, or you’re putting somebody in danger, then maybe advertising it is conflicting in the message.  But, obviously, NASCAR didn’t fine Bubba and what he did wasn’t necessarily right.  But, hey, it’s part of the show and hopefully, it attracts people to see how passionate and exciting our sport really is.

Rob Tiongson :  Ken Squier told me once that NASCAR isn’t just a sport. It’s entertainment and you need to have both.  Despite it being 2019, did you ever imagine you’d live in a world where there’d be another Terminator movie that’ll be in theatres this month followed by another Star Wars film around Christmas and Joker in October?

Landon Cassill : (laughs) Man, you just went over my head.  I never really got into Batman.  I’ve heard that Joker would be something that would terrify me.  The Terminator movie, that surprised me.  That’s kind of crazy.  I can definitely tell you that I’d never imagine seeing another Terminator movie.  It’s been maybe 15 years since I’ve seen a Terminator movie.

Rob Tiongson :  And Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are in this new one. So I mean, we’re back in 1991 as far as we’re concerned.

Landon Cassill :  Well, nostalgia does sell!

Rob Tiongson :  If we didn’t have that, I guess it’s like old stories that new generations ought to know.  It keeps them relevant.

You tweeted about buying an “Environmentally Friendly” diamond bracelet from your sponsor Clean Origin for Christmas.  Since you kinda spoiled the surprise, is it fair game that she pretty much reveals what she’ll get you?

Moreover, Cassill's story with a recent sponsor proves quite interesting! (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Moreover, Cassill’s story with a recent sponsor proves quite interesting! (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Landon Cassill :  (laughs) Yea, she’s welcome to buy me one.  I was fortunate.  I got to meet Ryan, the guy from Clean Origin.  It’s really an interesting company and it’s really cool.  We talked a lot about the diamond business.  And so, I think I may get her something nice.  We’ll have to see.  I didn’t totally spoil the surprise.  She’ll get something so she won’t be spoiled about it!

Rob Tiongson :  Oh yea, we don’t want you ever to get in the dog house for sure!  We talked about obscure lyrics during the summer. But what concerts have you attended in your life would probably surprise fans?

Landon Cassill :  My wife and I like standup comedians.  During the summer, we saw Sebastian Maniscalco in Charlotte.  He’s pretty funny.  Not a band, not music but stand-up comedy.  We like stand-up comedians.  I love Dave Chappelle.  He’s got that special on Netflix.  So, it’s pretty provoking and interesting.  He has a way about what he does.  But I like Joey Diaz as well.  He’s a little dark, but he’s a pretty good comedian.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Landon and StarCom Racing for this wonderful opportunity!  We look forward to more insights and perspectives from Landon as he brings us closer to the world of NASCAR.  Stay tuned for part two of Landon’s November 2019 journal here on TPF!

Also, I’d like to dedicate Landon’s journal for this month to my newborn niece! I’m a lucky uncle to have a wonderful nephew in Francisco Virgilio and sweet niece in Ramona Elizabeth!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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