Sunday, June 22, 2014

CUP / SONOMA WEEK: Landon Cassill’s Engine Expires Early At Sonoma

SOURCE: Brock Beard
Landon Cassill picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway when his #40 Chevrolet fell out with engine trouble after he completed 29 of the race’s 110 laps.

The finish was Cassill’s first of 2014 and his first in 75 Cup races, dating back to when his #83 Burger King Fruit Smoothies Toyota was involved in a crash after he completed one lap of the Pocono 400 on June 10, 2012.

After his release from BK Racing after the 2012 season, Landon Cassill moved to Circle Sport, a single-car team owned by Joe Falk.  Circle Sport runs the #33 for the most of the season except for the handful of races when a fourth Richard Childress team runs the number with Childress equipment.  Last year at Indianapolis, Circle Sport essentially expanded to two teams with the debut of Hillman Racing, named for Mike Hillman, whose son Mark is the crew chief for Circle Sport.  Cassill debuted the car and finished 33rd while Childress driver Austin Dillon drove the #33 to a 26th-place run.

After a sterling 12th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, the Hillman team’s first run with Sonoma sponsor, Cassill failed to qualify for the next two races, then qualified for the following race at Bristol only to lose the primary car in a vicious practice crash.  The team bounced back a few weeks later at Talladega, where Cassill ran with the leaders in an unsponsored #40 and finished a career-best 11th.

At Sonoma, Cassill proved elusive as both he and J.J. Yeley competed in both the Nationwide event at Road America and Sunday’s race.  Both earned top-ten finishes on Saturday while their cars were qualified by alternates.  Yeley’s #44 Phoenix Warehouses Chevrolet was qualified by K&N Pro Series West driver David Mayhew.  And after Cassill timed in 42nd in the opening practice session on Friday, Timmy Hill moved to 40th in Happy Hour, then secured the 37th starting spot Sunday with a lap of 94.012 mph.

On Sunday morning, with Cassill and Yeley back at the track with just hours to spare, I spoke with Hill, who was still on standby at the Hillman Racing hauler.  I asked him about his first Sonoma experience.

“It was really neat for me because I’ve never been to this track,” he said.  “The first time I’ve ever seen this place is this weekend.  I’ve raced in different road races in the past in Nationwide and ran a couple Grand-Am races and a few races growing up.  It’s not really my background, but it’s something I’ve done well on in the past.  It’s neat for me to come here.  This is the last track on the schedule I’ve never been to, so now I’ve been to every single racetrack."

Hill has made four Cup starts this season with a season-best finish of 36th at Pocono two weeks ago and a last-place finish at Bristol in March.

The 21-year-old Hill has made 28 Cup starts for Frank Stoddard, Rick Ware, Joe Nemechek, and the Circle Sport / Hillman Racing team.  His best career finish came at Kansas in 2012, when he finished 22nd driving Stoddard’s #32.  This year, he’s made three starts in the #33 Circle Sport Chevrolet.  I asked what his plans were for this year.

“This sport, you get a lot of support.  There’s a lot of good people in the garage.  I’ve known a lot of different people here and I take every opportunity I can get.  I haven’t been able to race too much this year, I guess five or six races so far, but it’s neat getting to come out here and run this track for the first time.  We’ve got some more deals lined up for the rest of the season.”

Before the start of Sunday’s race, Cassill and Yeley climbed back in their cars and started in the final two spots on the field due to the driver change.  Both passed road course driver Tomy Drissi in the early laps, putting Drissi’s #66 Hercules Toyota and the Identity Ventures Racing back to 43rd.  Drissi held the spot until Martin Truex, Jr.’s unscheduled stop in his #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet dropped him three-quarters of a lap behind leader A.J. Allmendinger.  Boris Said, who spun Go FAS Racing’s #32 7-11 / AmeriGas Ford in Turn 11 on Lap 4, was in 42nd.

On Lap 13, Truex caught Drissi, but both now competed for the 41st spot.  Michael McDowell, making his first start since the Coca-Cola 600, made an early pit stop for fresh tires and came out just a few carlengths in front of Allmendinger.  McDowell managed to widen the gap between he and the leader, then passed Said, who was the first to go down a lap by Lap 17.  Said was then passed by Cassill for the spot after Cassill pitted the #40 for the first time around Lap 24.

On Lap 30, Alex Kennedy, this week’s driver of the Circle Sport #33, had just taken the 43rd spot when Cassill’s #40 lost the engine in a huge plume of smoke on the frontstretch.  Cassill slowed to a stop at the Turn 1 entrance to the garage area, bringing out the first caution of the day.

“I don’t know what happened,” said the crew chief over the radio.  “But it looked big over here.”

The tow truck pushed Cassill to the garage area, and the team packed up.  By the time the race ended, their hauler had already left the track.

Finishing 42nd on Sunday was Matt Kenseth, who experienced the most vicious accident of the afternoon when contact from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sent his #20 Dollar General Toyota head-on into the tire barriers entering the Esses.  Kenseth walked away from the accident, and though Cassill’s exit kept him from his first last-place finish since 2009, he was left with his first 42nd-place run since June 17, 2007 at Michigan.

Finishing 41st was rookie Ryan Truex, who broke the rear gear on his #83 Burger King Toyota and stopped in the Esses on Lap 62.  “I work my (expletive) off and get nothing for it,” said a dejected Truex.  He returned to the track on Lap 75 and finished under power, nineteen laps down.

Also under power was 40th-place Josh Wise, who for the third time this year carried sponsorship from Dogecoin thanks to the well-known Reddit crowdfunding effort.  Wise avoided the early-race carnage only to slow in the Esses on Lap 84.  The culprit, according to a crewman after the race, was an electrical problem with the fuel system.  Wise spent fifteen laps behind the wall, then came back to finish the race.  “We never give up,” said the crewman.  During Sunday's Tweetup, Wise said the Phil Parsons Racing team is still looking for sponsorship for much of their remaining 2014 season.

Rounding out the Bottom Five was Alex Kennedy, whose struggles with lateral grip in practice turned into a rear gear failure that stopped his #33 just six laps from the finish, making him one of only three DNFs in Sunday’s field.

Yesterday, I asked Carl Edwards what it would mean if he could give Ford its first win at the Sonoma Raceway since 2002.  He was surprised by the statistic, and said “it would mean a lot to me considering how terrible I was, when my road course career started.”  Less than a day later, he raised the ceremonial goblet in victory lane, having won ahead of a charging Jeff Gordon.

The finish was strikingly similar to the end of the 1997 event, Roush-Fenway’s most recent Cup win at Sonoma, when Mark Martin took the checkered flag when Gordon was unable to make the same Turn 11 pass stick.  In the media center, Jack Roush expressed his pride at picking up another road course win, which reminded him not only of Martin, but of his team winning its first-ever race at Sonoma with Greg Pickett during an SCCA Trans-Am race:

“We’ve really enjoyed our success road racing,” said Roush.  “Mark Martin was a good raod racer, and of course the Trans-Am in the SCCA programs we had and the IMSA programs we had before that that took us to this racetrack, it was always a lot of fun to do that.  There’s an expectation on my part.  I come out here and I tell the gys you need to get lots of toe out to get this thing t turn, and you need los of toe in in the back to get the forward bite.  There’s certain things about the racetrack that are unique, and they apply to all the cars that we’ve had here over the years.”

“So there was a lot of effort going into getting Carl to the point where he could do what he needs to do and trying to get the car what it needs to do.  The brakes did a nice job today.  The brakes are really important here.”

And the driver didn’t do half bad either.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #40 in a Cup Series race since last fall at Talladega, when Tony Raines’ turn in the Hillman Racing entry ended with engine trouble after two laps.
*It is the first last-place finish for the #40 in this event since 2002, when Sterling Marlin’s Coors Original Dodge slipped a belt and lost the engine after 19 laps of the race.  It is Cassill’s first last-place finish in the event - he came home 31st in his only other start here in 2012.

43) #40-Landon Cassill / 29 laps / engine
42) #20-Matt Kenseth / 74 laps / crash
41) #83-Ryan Truex / 91 laps / running
40) #98-Josh Wise / 95 laps / running
39) #33-Alex Kennedy / 104 laps / rear gear

1st) Dave Blaney (2)
2nd) Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Travis Kvapil, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers (1)

1st) #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
2nd) #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #38-Front Row Motorsports, #40-Hillman Racing, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / Identity Ventures Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-NEMCO-JRR Motorsports, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Ford (6)
2nd) Chevrolet, Toyota (5)

I hope you’ve enjoyed Sonoma Week here at LASTCAR.  Be sure to get your FREE copy of LASTCAR: The First Year-By-Year Chronicle of Last-Place Finishers in the NASCAR Cup Series (1949-2013).  Click here and enter promo code HG74S to download yours today!  But hurry - this promotion ends Monday!

1 comment:

UnderdogFan89 said...

I hope you had a blast at Sonoma!