As if the NASCAR Silly Season couldn’t get any sillier, the unpredictable moves at the back end of the field are unfolding more than anyone expected.
After Leavine Family Racing announced Michael McDowell is out and Kasey Kahne is in, it appeared that would be the lone major move from the middle of the pack on back. However, Landon Cassill’s departure from Front Row Motorsports means yet another driver is a free agent.
More importantly, there is another open seat in NASCAR’s premier division, even if it might not be in top-tier equipment.
As rides become infrequent, drivers will be desperately vying for sponsorship deals, competing against one-another. More often than not, they will be pitching their resumes to the same teams, given there are only a handful of top-tier jobs left in the Cup Series.
But in the XFINITY Series, the free agency pool is flowing well. The waves aren’t large, with only a handful of changes expected for the 2018 line-up in the sport’s second-tier division.
Q: With Landon Cassill being released by Front Row Motorsports, where can he go? – Andres V., Kansas City
A: When Cassill came to drive for Front Row Motorsports, it seemed like he would be the one driver to really grow the operation. The team decreased from a three-car operation to having only two entries, putting more of a focus on the Nos. 34 and 38 machines.
For Cassill, it was the perfect deal at the time. Front Row had been gaining notoriety thanks to the 2015 debut of now-JTG Daugherty Racing driver Chris Buescher, along with respectable seasons from Brett Moffitt and Cole Whitt. But things haven’t worked out as expected.
The No. 34 team has plateaued it seems, often running in the mid-late-20s, with the occasional top-20 result. Through 30 races in 2017, Cassill has three top 20s, compared to teammate David Ragan’s two top 10s and five top 20s.
While Ragan is running better than he ever has in his two stints with FRM, earning an average finish of 25.4 thus far, Cassill’s average result is 26.9 this year. The drop hasn’t been a major one for Cassill, decreasing just six-tenths from last year’s 26.3. But the difference this year is he has been through a pair of crew chiefs, neither of whom have been able to turn the No. 34 team around.
Let’s face it, this isn’t Cassill’s fault. He is one of the few well-respected drivers who can really wheel a machine that should be finishing 30th and get it to finish on the lead lap. That’s what he did in 2016, and he earned 10 lead lap results, which isn’t too shabby for a mid-level team.
Cassill and Co. are responsible for extending the contract of longtime partner Love’s Travel Stops, a major primary sponsor for the small organization. His personality, mixed with respect on the track, have led him to bring in more support from existing FRM partners CSX and MDS Transport.
While it has been a bumpy ride, Cassill brought potential over to FRM after making the most out of his time competing in the No. 40 car for Hillman Racing from 2014 to 2015.
This could actually be a blessing in disguise for Cassill, 28, who has been competing in the Cup Series since he was 20. If he can land a respectable ride, his untapped potential could be revealed to the NASCAR realm. As one of the most vocal drivers on social media, he has a following that will certainly support him and any sponsor that is willing to work with him in the future.
Even with the rough news, Cassill is still staying positive and sending across a message he truly cares about:
Please just promise me you guys will still all stop for railroad crossings
— landon cassill (@landoncassill) October 10, 2017
Options at the Cup level are few and far between. However, Cassill could surprise the NASCAR world, ending up at a Richard Childress Racing or even Richard Petty Motorsports should sponsorship fall into place. Other than that, you may see him ending up at another mid-level team, or even pulling a Justin Allgaier, dropping down to compete for a XFINITY Series title.
Imagine what it would be like to see Cassill in a RCR car at the Cup level? It would be a great scenario for the sport, which needs someone like him to step up and be the underdog story that we have all been waiting for.
As for Front Row, expect them to sign someone like McDowell or Patrick for 2018. The seat could be a viable option if Ford opts to up support for the team and a driver can bring in respectable sponsorship dollars.
Q: What can we expect out of Matt Tifft‘s move to Richard Childress Racing next year? – Kyle A., Los Angeles
A: This is such an intriguing move for RCR, one I personally can’t grasp. Tifft has struggled in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment, and didn’t do well in the Camping World Truck Series, either.
Over the course of 65 combined NASCAR starts, he has four top fives and 25 top 10s. He entered 2017 under too much pressure, being expected to win right off the bat in the No. 19 car, replacing reigning champion Daniel Suarez.
In the small sample we got out of Tifft last year, he showed signs of brilliance at times. Just before he had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor, he was coming off a pair of top 10s after failing to best a 20th-place result at Texas Motor Speedway earlier that year. But when he came back, he earned three straight top 10s and even scored a top five in his first race back at Kentucky Speedway.
The struggle that has been the 2017 season is not one that JGR expected. With a rookie driver and a freshman crew chief in Matt Beckman, expectations were simply unrealistic. It has taken 30 races, but they are finally hitting some type of stride, with four straight top 10s. However, their best finish in that span is sixth (twice).
That’s not ideal if you want to win a championship, and JGR wants that trophy again.
Tifft’s marketing ability this year has been phenomenal, and it’s one that shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s been able to attract new companies into the sport left and right, including Tunity, Surface Sunscreen (just an associate with him in the Truck Series) and others. But the on-track results haven’t piled in, and it’s time for a change.
RCR is struggling as well this year, with the exception of rookie Daniel Hemric, who re-signed with the team in hopes of moving to the Cup Series sooner rather than later. The team has failed to visit Victory Lane, even with its trio of Cup drivers each getting seat time in the XFINITY Series.
Addressing today's announcement: pic.twitter.com/0zqKxP778H
— Matt Tifft (@matt_tifft) October 5, 2017
With both Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan struggling to run consistently up front, a sophomore Tifft might be able to do just that. If he can equal Hemric’s results from this year — or even best them — 2018 could be considered a successful season.
For Tifft, 2018 is a make-or-break season, and I hope he can prove that he just ended up in a situation that wasn’t ideal for him at JGR and that RCR will provide a better experience.