Sunday, May 22, 2022

CUP: After Stenhouse transfers, Cassill first driver out of the Open for a hard crash

PHOTO: @TheLTFiles

Landon Cassill finished last in the All-Star Open at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #77 Shelton Energy Solutions Chevrolet was involved in a single-car crash after 25 of 50 laps.

After a difficult start, Cassill has begun to reap the rewards of his double-duty effort running full-time in the XFINITY Series for Kaulig Racing with a partial schedule in fellow Chevrolet effort Spire Motorsports’ #77 Chevrolet. Following a last-place finish after an engine fire in the XFINITY race in Fontana, Cassill finished 9th or better the next three races, then came within a few carlengths of beating Brandon Jones for the win in Martinsville, ultimately taking a career-best 2nd. The Cup side has seen more modest results, though in all five of his starts, he brought the car home under power with two top-twenty finishes, capped by a 15th in the Daytona 500. 

Cassill would also run the #77 in the All-Star Open, taking over for Kansas starter Josh Bilicki, in what would be his first pen start since 2019. His best finish in the race came in 2016, when he drove to an 8th-place finish for Front Row Motorsports. Shelton Energy Solutions would make their debut as sponsor for the non-points event.

Cassill’s Texas weekend began with the XFINITY race, where his #10 Voyager: Crypto for All Chevrolet was involved in the first incident in practice. Contact with the wall sent him to a backup car, leaving him last on the grid without a single lap completed. In the wild 167 laps that followed, Cassill clawed his way to 10th at the checkered flag. He faced similar adversity on the Cup side, ranking slowest of the 16 drivers in practice, but then improved to 11th in time trials with a lap of 184.382mph (29.287 seconds).

Starting 16th and last in the second-shortest Open field in the history of the event was B.J. McLeod in the #78 B.J. McLeod Pala Casino Ford. He’d be joined by two drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments – Justin Haley in the #31 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, and Tyler Reddick in the #8 Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet, who had steering issues that would later be suffered by teammate Austin Dillon in the race. Both McLeod and 15th-place starter Garrett Smithley in the #15 Trophy Tractor Ford decided not to start ahead of Haley and Reddick, so the last row remained the same at the start.

When the race started, McLeod and Smithley remained locked in a side-by-side battle for the 16th spot. At the end of Lap 1, they were one-thousandth apart, then six-thousandths on Lap 2, 0.016 of a second on Lap 3, followed by five-thousandths on Lap 4. It wasn’t until the fifth lap that Smithley finally shook off McLeod, who remained just 0.284 back of the #15. The gap between the two grew to 0.525 on Lap 17, but in the final laps, McLeod began to close the gap, reaching 0.394 at the last lap of the stage, then 0.319 as it ended. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won the stage, technically handing him last place as the first driver to transfer into the main event.

Under caution, both McLeod and Haley incurred tail-end penalties for uncontrolled tires, putting them in the tail end of the pack to start behind the longest line. Stenhouse inherited last when Stage 2 began on Lap 21, and this time Smithley pulled ahead of McLeod more easily, opening up a 0.263 second advantage the first time by. McLeod was still 0.327 behind on Lap 26, when the caution fell for the first incident of the race. Cassill, running through Turns 3 and 4, was told by his team to try the high line, but it didn’t work. He lost control and backed into the outside wall, spinning down to the apron. Cassill climbed out uninjured, his day done.

Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez won the race’s two remaining stages with Erik Jones earning the Fan Vote. Tyler Reddick, who like Haley had been climbing through the field, ended up spinning in the same spot as Cassill, then was struck by a slowing Harrison Burton in the #21 Motorcraft / Dex Imaging Ford. Both Reddick and Burton were done for the race, ultimately filling the Bottom Five. 

*This marked the first last-place finish for both Cassill and the #77 in the Open.

16) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 20 laps / led 20 laps / advanced stage 1
15) #77-Landon Cassill / 25 laps / crash
14) #17-Chris Buescher / 40 laps / led 9 laps / advanced stage 2
13) #21-Harrison Burton / 42 laps / crash
12) #8-Tyler Reddick / 42 laps / crash

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