Landon Cassill closed out the 2019 season with a 15th-place finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the best finish for Shepherd Racing Ventures since 2009. But in the time following that, Cassill lost his NASCAR Cup Series ride with StarCom Racing during the offseason and didn’t have an NXS gig after Morgan Shepherd shut the team down in May 2020.
Cassill went nine months without competing in NASCAR, during which he started an iRacing-based company, eRacr, with fellow driver Parker Kligerman. He finally returned to the NXS via JD Motorsports to start the 2021 season. He previously drove for Johnny Davis’ team on two different stints (2013-15, 2018-19), but this year marks his first full-time NXS season since 2014.
The 10-year Cup veteran is currently 19th in the driver standings. But starting at Dover International Speedway, Davis had Cassill move from the team’s No. 4 car to the No. 6 entry that rookie Ryan Vargas started the year in, as the No. 6 team was 37th in the owners standings and cars outside the top 36 in NXS points only get $4,500 per race. With the exception of Circuit of the Americas, where Cassill drove the No. 4 and road course ringer Spencer Pumpelly was in the No. 6, the Cassill-Vargas swap has been in effect. And in that time, Cassill (and Pumpelly for one week) has elevated the No. 6 car five spots in the standings.
Frontstretch caught up with Cassill before COTA to discuss his return to JDM, his relationships with Vargas and Kligerman, what it was like to be away from NASCAR and whether or not the desire is there to get back to Cup.
Michael Massie, Frontstretch: You and Ryan Vargas swapped numbers at Dover. Was that switch because the No. 6 was 37th in owners points and JDM was trying to get a veteran like you in the car to bump it up in the standings?
Cassill: No, that’s the plan. That car’s out of the money in points, and so that car’s only racing for $4,500 a week. It needs the full prize money. And so we swapped points to try to get it closer to that. So we’re getting there.
Massie: Are you going back to the No. 4 next week or are you sticking with the No. 6 for the time being?
Cassill: I’m not sure. I mean that’s just something Johnny’s gonna have to decide to do. Hopefully, maybe, if I only got to run it once, that’d be fine. But I’d like to be back in the No. 4.
Massie: You’re up in the top 20 in points, and then you’re asked to lift up another team. How does that conversation with Johnny Davis go?
Cassill: It’s really not that bad, I mean, it’s just part of the job. This is kind of what Johnny hired me to do is help the organization as a whole. It’s really nice to have the [No.] 4 car up there in points. It should be safely in the field at COTA and at these other races where qualifying is going to be tough. So it’s just something that, it’s part of the gig.
Massie: I saw Ryan Vargas posting about how he’s disappointed to be out of the car at COTA. Have you given any advice to him since then? How’s that relationship between you guys?
Cassill: Yeah, Ryan and I have a good relationship, and we’ve we spent a lot of time together. And we’ve talked a lot, and I know what he’s going through. I know how hard it is to get these first…Those first 100 starts in your NASCAR career can be the hardest. Because you really got to break through all of the stigmas of being a rookie or team owners questioning if they want you in the car or not. And Ryan’s a good kid, he’s a good driver and and he’s got a lot to prove. But he was hired to do a job, to drive that No. 6 car and to do it well. He’s one of the few in this sport right now that can come in and have a team owner have as much faith in him as Johnny does. So he’s capable of solid finishes, and that’s usually where our conversation is focused.
Massie: Would you say your position in the points is higher or lower than what your goals for the year are?
Cassill: I’d like to be better than 19th. It might be where I expected to be, but I also — I don’t know, I didn’t expect the field to be as tough as it is, right? I’m really surprised. I’m really impressed by a lot of the drivers in the field that have made a ton of progress over the last couple years. So just makes us need to step our game up.
Massie: Two of your best runs this year so far were at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway, two places known for just abusing tires, eating them up and spitting them out. Do you think your days of starting and parking disciplined you to take better care of the tires in that situation so you’re kind of better on those long runs on those tracks that do eat up tires? What’s your key to success at tracks like that?
Cassill: Yeah, I think it really goes all the way back to my days of late model racing. When I grew up racing late models in the early 2000s, mid-2000s, I was racing on tracks — the type of Hoosier tire that we raced on had a lot of falloff, had a lot of tire wear. Racing in the Snowball Derby, the Snowflake 100 taught me a lot about saving tires. I was mentored really early on by Gary St. Amant, who was really, really good on abrasive racetracks. And so I think that I laid a foundation for tire saving back when I was a teenager.
Massie: What led you to come back to Johnny Davis full time this year?
Cassill: Johnny and I got a really good relationship. And then he made the call, and we wanted to put a deal together. [He] let me know about this driver lineup and was just like, ‘Man, I want you to come back and help this team, help this organization.’
I’m happy to do it. Johnny, and I, we’ve got a lot of faith in each other. I have a hard time saying no to Johnny.
Massie: So you get a top 15 at Homestead in the 2019 season finale for Morgan Shepherd. Kind of a big day for that team. The next thing you know — just the ups and downs of the sport — you’re sitting out of the car from May 2020 to February 2021. How hard was that turn of events for you?
Cassill: It was really hard to get out of the car, just because you feel like you get behind. But it was a nice time to be out of the car, you know, with the pandemic, was kind of weird. I spent a lot of time at home, and a lot of time with my family was good. And I’m glad I’m back racing, but I do feel like I’m having to rebuild a lot from getting behind. So it was hard, but at the end of the day, I’m glad to be back.
Massie: How is Morgan Shepherd doing these days?
Cassill: He’s doing alright. I talk to him every couple weeks and talk to either at least him or Cindy [Shepherd] pretty regularly. So he’s doing okay, but he’s the type of guy that’s got to keep himself busy. He’s got to be working. And ultimately, we’d love to get back to the track.
— Michael Massie (@m_massie22) October 5, 2019
Massie: During that time out of racing, you and Parker Kligerman were able to form a company related to iRacing. You guys had a big Firecracker 400 event last year. How did you guys [end up] forming eRacr? And do you guys have anything more big planned up ahead?
Cassill: eRacr has been exciting for Parker and I. It’s cool to have a venture that’s outside of the physical world and in the virtual world. Our last event was Carnomaly 500, and our next event is going to be the Firecracker 400 again. We’re gonna be announcing dates very soon. We just got our dates approved. So the project’s in motion, things are happening.
We’re trying to bridge this gap between real-world racing and virtual racing, because we are big believers in sim racing and love it and love the community. So our goal for the events is just to put up the biggest prize purse we could put up and and let these drivers feel the pressure. Let them feel the professionalism. Let them be on real broadcasts and experience what it’s like to be in a marquee event.
"So when someone crashes in qualifying. There is no way to simulate the damage repair time and actual cost of a race car. So we just say "they went to a backup car" and they start the Firecracker 400 from the back"
— eRacr.gg (@eRacr_gg) June 1, 2021
It kind of goes off of our belief that sim racing is not fake racing. It’s just another discipline of racing. Yeah, it’s not real racecars, but it is real racing. And what’s cooler about sim racing than other eSports is that driving a car in a sim race is the same as driving a car in real life, turning a steering wheel, you’re pushing pedals, you’re sitting in the same position. It’s not like Madden football, where you’re pushing a button on a controller to throw a football or the camera view is from behind the players. You’re not inside the helmet. Like in sim racing, you’re inside the car. So yeah, we’re big believers in sim racing. That’s why we just keep pushing eRacr ahead. We feel like we can be a great independent destination for the most marquee events on the on the platform.
Massie: I talked to Kligerman about your relationship a while back, and he said he used to see you around at the track and think, ‘Man, we should be best friends.’ He said it took the COVID-19 pandemic for you guys to click and become friends.
Massie: So I want your side of the story. Can you confirm — and this is really big and could have potential fallout — is Parker Kligerman your friend?
Cassill: (laughing) Parker is definitely my friend, yes. We’ve got a lot in common, and we think very similar to each other. We get along really well, and we work well together. So I’m very happy to be working with Parker. He’s good dude.
Massie: You’re an Xfinity regular again, and you’re doing pretty well. But you still have your eye on the Cup Series?
Cassill: I mean, I’d love to be in the Cup Series. Really, though, I want to win races, I want to run well. I love running well at Johnny’s, when we can get close to a top 10, and hopefully we get some top-10 finishes this year. I love racing in the Cup Series. I’m not too proud to drive for a smaller team where 30th might be the goal for that week. So I’m not saying I wouldn’t do that. But I’ve done a lot of that in my career. I would really like to compete for wins.
Massie: If you were to never drive another Cup race and just stick with Xfinity, would you be okay with that?
Cassill: No, because I want to run the Daytona 500 again. I want to run some of these big races again. So I definitely perceive racing Cup at some point in my career again.