Sunday, February 22, 2015

CUP: Landon Cassill’s Engine Explodes, Ignites Early In Daytona 500

Landon Cassill picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s 57th Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #40 Chevrolet fell out with an engine failure after he completed 18 of the race’s 203 laps.  The finish came in Cassill’s 152nd series start.

This was Cassill’s first last-place finish in the series since last fall at Texas, three races ago, when he lost the engine on his #40 Hillman Racing Chevrolet after 134 laps of the AAA Texas 500.

Cassill arrived at Daytona to begin his sixth Cup Series season and his third in a row driving for co-owners Joe Falk and Mike Hillman.  In 2014, the first full-season run for Hillman’s #40, Cassill raced his way into the Daytona 500 field and finished 12th, then soldiered through a tough three-race stretch where he failed to qualify for the next rounds at Phoenix and Las Vegas, then made the show at Bristol only to lose his primary car in a vicious practice crash.  Carrying a variety of sponsors, Cassill made it through the remainder of the season, finishing 11th and a career-best 4th in the two races at Talladega.  He also finished 12th in the XFINITY Series point standings, where he’s chosen to remain eligible for points in 2015.

With 49 cars on the Daytona 500 entry list for the second-consecutive year (following the withdrawal of Joe Nemechek’s self-prepared #87 Chevrolet), Cassill hoped to rely on his restrictor-plate successes of the year before.  He timed in 34th in the opening session, then jumped to 9th in the second as cars started to practice drafting.  Last Sunday’s controversial qualifying session left Cassill just 47th-fastest of the 49 competitors, meaning that he would have to once again race his way in through Thursday’s Budweiser Duels.

On Wednesday, Cassill improved again to 22nd-fastest in the third session and sat out the fourth, avoiding involvement in the multi-car pileup triggered by Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin.  Choosing to sit out the fourth session early Thursday, Cassill rolled out 23rd in Duel Race #1 that night.  After three cautions, Cassill found himself closing on the lead pack at exactly the right time, securing him a 9th-place finish and the 17th place on the grid for his third Daytona 500.

Cassill did not participate in the next practice session, but ranked 22nd of 25 and 21st of 35 in the final two, all the while keeping his #40 intact.

Bobby Labonte, making his first start in Frankie Stoddard’s #32 C&J Energy Services Ford previously driven by Bobby’s brother Terry, secured the 43rd starting spot in the 500 field, but the field shuffled completely to nine backup cars, two driver changes, and an engine change falling to the rear.  Joining this “to the back” group was Mike Wallace, who’d made his first 500 field since 2007 in Premium Motorsports’ #66 Crazy Vapors / X8 Energy Gum Toyota.  Wallace held the last spot at the start, passed the backup car of A.J. Allmendinger on Lap 3, then retook it by Lap 7.  By then, Wallace had fallen 3 seconds behind the rest of the field and was about to lose a lap.

Then, as the leaders exited Turn 2 on Lap 19, smoke burst from beneath Cassill’s #40.  He made it safely from the high lane to the apron, but as the caution fell, flames burst from beneath his Chevrolet.  Cassill stopped at the entrance of Turn 3 and safely got out of his ride.  Crews extinguished the flames quickly and the car was towed to the garage area, out of the race.

Besides Cassill’s blown engine, the only other on-track incident during the first 161 laps occurred on Lap 42, when Tony Stewart lost control off Turn 4 and slid into the #21 Motorcraft Ford of Ryan Blaney, making his Daytona 500 debut.  Matt Kenseth, who led much of the previous week’s Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel Race #1, was rear-ended by Michael Waltrip, damaging both their Toyotas.  Stewart’s damage kept him behind the wall for so long that he only briefly returned to the track before parking for good with 61 to go.  Kenseth could only manage 35th while Blaney lost the engine late and finished 39th.

Between Stewart and Blaney was Brad Keselowski, whose engine on his #2 Miller Lite Ford also let go on the backstretch while running near the front inside the final 50 laps.  J.J. Yeley, who went behind the wall for what may have been a mechanical issue, returned to the track after Keselowski’s exit to pass him on the track, leaving his #23 MAXIM Fantasy Sports / Dr. Pepper Toyota in 40th.

*This was the first last-place finish for the #40 in a Sprint Cup Series points-paying race at Daytona since July 4, 1977 when D.K. Ulrich’s #40 Hair Shack Chevrolet lost the engine after 4 laps of the Firecracker 400.  It is the first last-place finish for both the #40 and Cassill in the Daytona 500.
*This marks the fourth time in the last five Daytona 500s that the last-place finisher fell out with an engine failure in the first 50 laps.  The lone exception is David Ragan’s involvement in a Lap 2 crash in 2012.

43) #40-Landon Cassill / 18 laps / engine
42) #14-Tony Stewart / 72 laps / crash
41) #2-Brad Keselowski / 160 laps / engine
40) #23-J.J. Yeley / 161 laps / running / led 1 lap
39) #21-Ryan Blaney / 175 laps / engine

1st) Landon Cassill (1)

1st) #40-Hillman Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)

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