Throughout a season, NASCAR teams will experience — like clockwork — the ups and downs of a racing season, and Landon Cassill’s 2016 season consisted of exactly that.
Cassill and Front Row Motorsports showed both flashes of brilliance and rough days at the racetrack. However, the season also consisted of Cassill and his team showing their determination to finish every race, and for Cassill it marked the season he became a social media legend.
The 27-year-old began his first season at Front Row Motorsports in 2016, taking over the No. 38 car from David Gilliland. Cassill was coming off two solid seasons at Hillman Racing, but with NASCAR’s new charter system, the team was left without one, forcing the team to shut down. After spending some of the offseason not sure what he was going to do, Cassill found a home at Front Row Motorsports.
FRM established an association with Roush Fenway Racing for the 2016 season, and while his teammate Chris Buescher made the Chase, Cassill’s 2016 season was another step in the right direction for a driver who seems to get better every year.
Known for his prowess on superspeedway tracks, Cassill and his team were expected to run strong in the 58th Daytona 500. Instead, the team struggled and finished in the 23rd spot. That started a string of tough finishes in the first three events of 2016, but the season started to turn around with an impressive 16th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway in March.
But his season will be remembered for a memorable run in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway three weeks later. That’s when the No. 38 Ford ran in the top 15 in the early stages of the event and found himself in the lead for a 20-lap run in the middle of the event. The 20 laps Cassill spent in the lead were the longest of span of his career, and even though the run resulted in a 22nd-place finish, it proved that he and his team could run up front with the leaders, given the opportunity.
Two weeks later the team rattled off its best finish of the season, an 11th-place run at Talladega Superspeedway. Throughout the year, it was more of the same. The No. 38 team would have a strong finish followed by a few tough finishes. In the end, the team recorded seven top-20 finishes and 15 top-25 finishes.
However, the team did set the standard for finishing races. One of NASCAR’s most underrated factors is when a team finishes races and completes laps. It can be a way to gain positions on the racetrack as well as give the sponsor recognition throughout the day. The No. 38 team did that better than anyone this year, leading the sport by finishing in 35 of 36 events. It’s a testament to Cassill’s car control, as the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native never fell out of a race due to an accident. Cassill finished 29th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, two positions better than Gilliland in 2015.
Cassill and company ran very well on so-called drivers’ tracks in 2016, as Bristol, Dover, Talladega, Phoenix and Homestead produced some of the teams’ best finishes throughout the year. However, the mile-and-a-half tracks are where the team needs to improve in 2017. That is the struggle for many smaller teams. Engineering has become such an essential part of NASCAR racing, and that and aerodynamics are a key to finishing strong on some of the 1.5-mile tracks in NASCAR. All that costs money, something Front Row Motorsports lacks compared to the bigger NASCAR teams.
2016 also marked the season that Landon Cassill became a social media sensation. In April, Cassill started using the slogan “38, nice,” on Twitter. With that, he became one of the best follows on Twitter, and “38, nice” has become a staple for NASCAR fans on Twitter. Social media also helped unveil a shirt that was made for Cassill and his sudden Twitter fame. #Levelup38 became a hit, and several pictures were Photoshopped with pictures of famous celebrities wearing Cassill’s #Levelup38 t-shirt. It caused quite the stir, and Cassill has become one of NASCAR’s most entertaining follows on Twitter.
Cassill will be back at Front Row Motorsports in 2017, and the team will try to improve on its 29th-place points finish from 2016. If the team can find some consistency in its second year together, that should make it a threat for a top-25 finish every week. Veteran crew chief Donnie Wingo will be back, guiding Cassill and the team through another grueling 36-week schedule in 2017.
With Wingo back on the box and Cassill back behind the wheel the team should have no surprises heading into Speedweeks 2017, and that is a big advantage.