RACING

Bristol shouldn’t define Landon Cassill’s 2022

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At the start of the season, Landon Cassill looked like a shoo-in for the NASCAR Xfinity playoffs.

Even entering the cut-off race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday night (Sept. 16), Cassill had a 19-point cushion and basically had to have a major problem missing the playoffs…and that’s precisely what happened to the driver. of Kaulig Racing.

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A mechanical failure on the front right wheel torpedoed Cassill and the #10 team’s ability to control their fate. After a long stay behind the wall for repairs, Cassill re-entered the race, but finished 112 laps in 35th.

Cassill was driving so many laps without moving up in the running order that all he could think about in the car was missing the playoffs. When he got out of the car and spoke with the media, most of his answers were short. He was clearly in disbelief, perhaps even slowly coming to terms with his potential fate at the end of the season. Anyway, he was not as usual, smiling and mischievous.

It’s important to remember that a race shouldn’t define a driver’s season, but in NASCAR’s playoff era, that’s not easy to do. Still, Cassill left points on the table in 26 races, whether of his making or not.

During the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway, Cassill’s engine failed and caught fire just six laps into the race. This run left him with just one point to add to his total.

At the Circuit of the Americas, he left fourth with six laps to go. At the top of the hill in Turn 1, he was pushed into the rear bumper by Brett Moffitt, sending him wide as he lost a handful of positions. Later, Cassill broke second gear. He fell in the running order and finished 31st.

A mechanical problem at Charlotte Motor Speedway relegated Cassill to 29th. At Road America, he was involved in the big crash triggered when Noah Gragson spun Sage Karam. He finished 32nd that day.

Arguably Cassill’s biggest disappointment came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he led his first laps of the season – a total of 17 – and crossed the finish line in third. However, during post-race inspection, NASCAR disqualified him (and fourth-placed Gragson) for body height violation.

It was Cassill’s strongest day of the season, and in the blink of an eye he was stripped. Instead of a top five, the No. 10 team left New Hampshire in 37th place.

Most recently at Daytona International Speedway in August, Cassill was knocked out of the race in the last big crash of the night, finishing 23rd.

Tuesday (September 20), Kaulig Racing shared a tweet highlighting how good 2022 has been for Cassill compared to the rest of his career.

It’s no secret that Kaulig Racing is the best gear Cassill has driven in any NASCAR series since making 16 starts for JR Motorsports in 2008. Back then, JRM wasn’t the powerhouse he is today, and Cassill was only 18 years old. Now, at 33, he has a full barrel of experience riding moderate to lower gear, not to mention all the experience an 18-year-old driver just wants to have.

In 176 previous starts, Cassill has scored just one top-five finish, in the 2011 season opener at Daytona while driving for James Finch. He finished 14 times in the top 10 and led a total of 17 laps. As of 2022, he has career bests with three top fives, nine top 10s and 17 laps led. Not to mention, his average starting and finishing positions have largely eclipsed previous career records.

Without Jeremy Clements winning at Daytona, Cassill makes the playoffs. But when Clements’ victory was restored, it pushed Cassill to the playoff cutoff point. When the right-forward mechanical issues surfaced, the No.10 team’s season fate was out of their hands.

Looking at the missed opportunities above, it’s hard to entirely blame Cassill for causing them. Only the second lost report could land only on him. All the others were broken parts or the work of another driver.

“My emotions are not the best right now. I’m pretty angry and disappointed,” Cassill said in the media enclosure minutes after the race was over.

He went on to say that the regular season had been long. It’s been long because it’s been 26 weeks, but it’s also been a long regular season because of Kaulig’s struggles.

It’s been repeated before, but Kaulig lost a stage or two in the 2021-22 offseason. Without AJ Allmendinger’s three road wins, chances are Kaulig has a big goose egg in the win column. It’s fair to say that the team Cassill signed up for in December 2021 is not the same one he’s driven with in the first 26 races this season.

If you turn any of the poor performances above into a top 15, Cassill is in the playoffs. If you turn them all into a top 15, he’s above Ryan Sieg and Kaulig teammate Daniel Hemric in total points and comfortably in the playoffs. And this hypothetical change does not include an increase in Kaulig’s performance. Even through their struggles, more often than not, the three Chevrolet Kauligs were among the top 15 cars.

Aside from Cassill bringing Voyager Digital in the No. 10 car, Kaulig and other teams shouldn’t send him back to the edge of the talent pool for missing the playoffs. As for Cassill, missing the playoffs by five points is a tough pill to swallow. He has every right to be disappointed with the repercussions of his arrival on Friday evening.

Cassill is a fighter and a survivor. It may sound extreme, but he fought hard to continue his career as a NASCAR driver and has long deserved the opportunity given to him in 2022. Should he have made the playoffs? Absolutely. Did he expect his cars to be more competitive? Most likely. Should they have been more competitive? Yes.

The wound may still be fresh, but Bristol Won’t do define its season. The results he has shown, regardless of his adversities, will define his season. If missing the playoffs prevents him from returning to Kaulig or landing another top run in 2023, it will change short what Cassill brings to the table and be a loss to the series.


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