By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
The Daytona 500 is in the books, and if you’re a fan of one of the big-named drivers in the sport then chances are you know everything about how your driver did this past Sunday. Unfortunately, television and social media accounts don’t always follow the little guys working their tails off in the back of the pack. This all new Tribute Racing series, ‘Keeping up with the underdogs’ is for you: the fans of the underdogs.
Regan Smith, driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, had a heck of a race. The driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet SS was involved a the lap 20 incident that was started when Chase Elliott got loose off of turn four. Smith would dig deep, and in the closing laps he found himself with a shot at a top-10. Smith would capitalize by finishing eighth on the day. Pretty solid effort, but this is the one underdog story everyone is talking about from Daytona.
I’d like to dig a little deeper in the pack. The story I’d like to focus on this week is Landon Cassill, and his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports team.
A peek at the box score from Sunday won’t look all that impressive. Cassill started 24th and finished 23rd in ‘The Great American Race’ but what you don’t see in a box score is that Cassill took care of his equipment all day long, and when the time was right he gave his team a shot at a good finish.
When the race started, Cassill’s car was extremely tight, which at 200 miles-per-hour is a huge deal. Instead of forcing the issue, and possibly running into a problem, Cassill opted to err on the side of caution and wait until his handling could be improved during pit stops to make a move toward the front. Crew chief Donnie Wingo would continue to take swings at the No. 38 Ford Fusion, until finally the handling was much improved.
From there, Cassill just kept trying to put himself in a good position to make a late-race run.
With 12 laps remaining, on the final restart of the day Cassill decided to drop the hammer and went to the high side after instruction from his spotter, Tony Raines. Cassill would work his way from 20th position to inside the top-15, and he was closing in on a top-10. Moments later, Cassill would be hung out to dry in the closing laps. Instead of a possible top-10 to top-15 run, Cassill had to settle for a 23rd place finish, but there are still positives that came out of the day for Cassill.
“I’m just really excited. I’m really proud. I feel like we did a great job,” Cassill said after his first race with his new team. “Tony Raines, my spotter, did a fantastic job and I’m glad we got 500 miles in. I’m glad we raced up front. I feel like it was a confidence boost for me going into this season and kind of a weight off my shoulders to come to a superspeedway and run like I’ve always run at superspeedways and that’s running up front, so I’m really happy with that.”
The Daytona 500 is always an action packed 200 laps, with calamity waiting around every corner. Cassill was able to bide his time on Sunday, and at the end of the day there wasn’t one scratch on his car. When you factor in that his teammate, Chris Buescher was involved in a huge crash at lap 91, you realize that Cassill bringing home his car in one piece definitely helped minimize the damage for his Front Row Motorsports team in Speedweeks at Daytona.
Here’s how the Underdogs all fared in Daytona:
8th, Regan Smith
15th, Michael McDowell
21st, AJ Allmendinger
23rd, Landon Cassill
27th, Michael Annett
29th, David Ragan
32nd, Casey Mears
38th, Robert Richardson Jr.
39th, Chris Buescher
40th, Matt DiBenedetto
Now Cassill and the rest of the underdogs head to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500. Cassill has five-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Atlanta. Cassill’s best finish at the 1.5-mile speedway was a 20th-place effort in 2012, he will look to best that this weekend.
Image: NASCAR Media Group