Our weekly series of interviews with drivers outside the top 12 in Sprint Cup Series points continues. This week: Landon Cassill, who has driven in Sprint Cup for TRG Motorsports and Phoenix Racing this season and in Nationwide JR Motorsports and RAB Racing.
What's the best race you've ever driven?
LC: I've had a lot of races where I actually won that I drove a good race, but one of the ones I didn't win where I drove a good race was Phoenix International Raceway, finishing sixth in the Nationwide Series (in 2008).
I wrecked my car in qualifying and started last in my backup with no laps on it. I worked my way up through the field, and there was a little bit of pressure personally for me because I needed a top-10 finish to get the Rookie of the Year.
We stayed out on the green-white-checkered restart and I restarted in fourth on old tires. Everyone else around me had pitted. So I restarted with Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, all these Cup drivers behind me on new tires, and I finished sixth. So I only got passed by two of them, and I actually held off McMurray and a couple of them.
Who is the most talented driver in NASCAR?
LC: I think in terms of raw talent, Kyle Busch is definitely up there with how he can just get in a car and wheel it. Some of those guys, it doesn't matter – as long as it's got a steering wheel and three pedals, that's all they need. Kyle's definitely a driver like that.
Obviously, you've got drivers like Jimmie Johnson and the champions out there. But those guys put together a total package. You can really see the raw talent in Kyle Busch, in my opinion.
What's the best time for a fan to approach you for an autograph at the track?
LC: Probably after Happy Hour (final practice). I don't like doing it before important sessions, like qualifying. I actually don't mind doing it a little bit before the race, as long as it doesn't hold me up from being in the zone or being on my schedule. Because race day is for the fans as much as it is for us. Some tracks I go to where I know I'm going to sign autographs, I just kind of go out there a little bit early and take my time. I don't like blowing the fans off, especially on race day.
What's something people may not know or understand about you?
LC: Man, I don't know. Through my Twitter and Facebook pages, I'm pretty open on there. I share a lot of what I'm up to. I think fans should know I'm pretty laid-back and I don't get bothered by much. I get flustered in a race car if something goes wrong and I'll be outspoken sometimes, but I'm not the type of guy that gets aggravated really easily. I can take a lot of heat at times and not really blow up or anything like that.
What's the worst track in NASCAR?
LC: I've never driven on Martinsville – although I love the Martinsville hot dogs – but I don't like going there because it's so close to home that you don't get to enjoy the trip. Part of the reason I enjoy traveling so much is you get to see all these different places, and sometimes it's not as fun when you go someplace that's only an hour from home.
It's kind of the same with Bristol. Although Bristol is such a spectacle in itself, you can enjoy it even though you're not going to some cool mall or beach or someplace like that.
No matter where the track is though, I always enjoy the motorhome lot. Last time I was in the motorhome lot at Talladega, I played cornhole with Ron Hornaday and Mike Skinner and all those guys. That was cool.
What driver do you most admire outside of NASCAR?
LC: I've always admired the Super Late Model driver Junior Hanley. He's Canadian, kind of helped me out when I first started racing Late Models. And I've always admired Gary St. Amant, he's been kind of a mentor and friend of mine.
As far as well-known guys? It's hard to say. I've just got some Late Model guys that I really admire and look up to.
Your career is still in its early stages. But if you could plan it out, how long would you want to drive?
LC: Man, right now, I hope it lasts until the end of the year! It's hard to say. I guess I got into this sport knowing that it's a 30-year sport. So I guess hopefully for 30 years. I don't want to quit until I feel like I've accomplished my goals.
When I was in second grade, my New Year's resolution was to win 10 Cup championships. So I need to win 10 championships before I quit! (laughs) I do want to be a champion in this sport, though. That's why I got into it in the first place. Hopefully I can do it for a long time.
Who wins the Sprint Cup in 2015?
LC: Jimmie Johnson. Probably. And I'll be happy with second.
What year will you win your first Cup race?
LC: Hopefully in my true rookie year. I talked about lifelong goals – for some reason, it's always stood out in my mind that I want to have an outstanding rookie season in the Cup Series. I'm sure everybody does, but if somebody said, "What are your goals in NASCAR?" I'd say I always wanted to win my championship in my rookie season. And I know that's so far-fetched in NASCAR today, because there's so much to it, but a lot of drivers have been close to it.
Denny Hamlin was in the top five, Jimmie was in the top five, Carl Edwards was second or third. Hopefully I can be with a good enough team that it's possible and I can be mature enough to handle it. I've always wanted to beat the rookie record for wins. Hopefully if I get a full-time ride next year, I can win some races.
But I don't want to be completely talking out of my butt on that one, because of the competition in the sport. Joey Logano had an outstanding rookie season for these days; he won Loudon, but he wasn't a contender to win every race. Ten years ago, you had to win one or two races to have an outstanding rookie season. Now, I don't think so. It's just so competitive.
If you were in charge of NASCAR, what's one thing you'd change?
LC: I'd put salary caps on the teams. At least on the drivers and the over-the-wall pit crews. If you have a salary cap with X-amount of money, you can open up the teams to have as many drivers as they want – but you only have so much money to spend. If you want to have your $20 million driver, you also have to have your $2 million driver and your half-million driver, too. I think it would even it out to where one team can't have all the highest-paid drivers.
And also, they could make it to where if your driver makes over a certain amount of money, you can't have a pit crew that's highly paid. So the drivers that make less money would have better pit crews, and the higher-paid drivers wouldn't.
Do you have any routines or supersitions?
LC: It's more routines than superstitions. I pray with my dad before I get in the car. I try to keep everything fairly repetitive.
Who is one good person to learn from in the garage and one who isn't good to learn from?
LC: I go to Kyle Busch to learn from. You can talk to all those guys, and people wonder why I go to Kyle Busch instead of like Jimmie Johnson. But Kyle is just so descriptive when he talks. He's really caring and he's really generous. He goes above and beyond for me. He's extremely descriptive in what he tells me when he gives me advice. I really like talking to him about it.
Kyle knows how to talk from a rookie perspective. And when I talk to (JR Motorsports teammate) Danica Patrick, I try to talk to her from a rookie perspective, like, 'Hey, this is what I went through a year ago and this is what you're going to feel.'
I can't tell you a driver not to go to. That wouldn't be a great thing to say. There are some drivers out there – I don't want to name names – that you would think would be good at giving advice and they just aren't. That's just a communication thing. You ask them how to get around the racetrack and they can't tell you.
Would you rather be known as a great driver or a great person?
LC: I want both – I want to have my cake and eat it, too. But probably a great person. There's a lot of people in the field that are drivers because they're great people and can maintain their jobs because they're great people and not great drivers. And there's a lot of great drivers out there who are out of jobs because they're not great people.
No matter what in life, it's important to have a good head on your shoulders and be a great person. Even in the real world, there's a lot of times where qualified, talented people don't get the job because they don't have a good head on their shoulders.
The day I hear someone say I don't have a good head on my shoulders would be a tough day for me. So I think I'd want to be a great person.