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Landon Cassill Interview: I Want To Be One Of NASCAR's Greatest

Landon Cassill (right) has the ear of one of his childhood heroes, Jeff Gordon, at Bristol. (Getty Images)
Landon Cassill (right) has the ear of one of his childhood heroes, Jeff Gordon, at Bristol. (Getty Images)
Getty Images

Our series of NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Landon Cassill, who, at age 21, has already driven for four different Sprint Cup teams. Currently, Cassill drives for Phoenix Racing. We sat down with him recently at Talladega.

SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?

LC: Hmm...let me think, let me think. Underrated...I can't pick myself? That would be awfully arrogant of me. Who do you think the most underrated driver is?

SBN: I don't know. This interview isn't about me.

LC: But it's a conversation. We can debate.

SBN: OK. How about Marcos Ambrose?

LC: I like Jamie McMurray. I'm a McMurray fan. I've kind of always have been, too. He's always been really good on speedways. I think he's pretty good, and he's a really good dude, too. I'm just a fan of his. I'm glad he's got a good ride.

SBN: What's a race you feel like you should have won that bothers you because you didn't?

LC: The Snowball Derby in 2010. I was leading when we took the white flag – and I got spun out. And it's like the biggest Late Model race in the world. It's the Daytona 500 of Late Model racing.

SBN: Oh yeah, I remember that. Johanna Long won, right?

LC: Yeah, she spun me out. That race at the Snowball Derby, I absolutely should have won it.

SBN: So did you get mad at her for spinning you out?

LC: Nah. If I was in her position, I would have spun her out! (laughs) You know? If I'm coming to the line in second, the guy in front of me better be working pretty hard to keep me off his bumper. It was a big race, and we had ourselves in position to win and everything.

I had made the pass for the lead, and I could see it, you know?

SBN: If you could build a four-car team with any drivers in NASCAR, who would you want your three teammates to be?

LC: Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jr. – I like Dale – and Kurt Busch.

SBN: Really? Kurt Busch?

LC: Yeah. That way I'm never the asshole.

SBN: Ha! That's quite an answer.

LC: But I like Kurt, too. I actually listen to his radio frequencies a lot during the week.

SBN: You do? How do you go back and listen to someone's radio frequency?

LC: I have friends that record it. My friends all record a lot of frequencies, and I got back and listen to people. I listen to Jimmie's a lot and try to get educated. Kurt is just really intense.

SBN: What driver did you most want to be like when you were growing up?

LC: Mark Martin. It's hard to say who I wanted to be like – I probably wanted to be like Jeff Gordon because he was the kid and I was young – but Mark Martin was definitely one of my favorites.

I was a Ford fan growing up, and Mark was kind of the flagship Ford driver. He was just really good. He'd been around forever, and his name was really recognizable and he had a cool paint scheme when he drove the Valvoline car.

I definitely liked Gordon, though. I used to like Jeff Burton a lot when he drove that No. 99 car, too. I remember when he won the first Texas race in '97. That's when I started liking him.

SBN: So you can remember the races in '97, even though you were born in 1989?

LC: Oh yeah. I've been watching the races as long as I can remember. I used to make my mom tape all the races. I'd watch the race on Sunday while it was taping in the VCR, and then I'd watch it all week until the next race. Every day, I'd put it in the VCR and watch the race.

One of the Talladega races – I think it was in '98 or something (Fact check: It was actually 1997), and it went caution free – was run on a Monday because of rain. I think Mark Martin won (Fact check: Martin did win). Anyway, I had to go to school on Monday, so I couldn't watch it live. I was ready to watch the race when I came home from school, but my mom forgot to tape it. And I was pissssssssssed off!

I can remember my mom telling me, 'Oh, it was a boring race anyway because there were no cautions.' But I was still so mad because she didn't tape it.

SBN: What's a memorable post-race escape you've made from the track?

LC: Well, it's tough for me now. I start-and-parked for a year, so I was used to getting out of the track early. (laughs) My dad and I had this routine going where we'd go get a chocolate milkshake after I finished start-and-parking. But we can't do that anymore, because now we have to go straight to the airport.

I don't really have any great stories, because I've always left myself enough time to get to the plane. You do not want to be late for the plane. Especially me – I'm a guest on the planes I fly – so you don't want to be the last one on. It doesn't even matter if you're on time, though; if you're the last guy on the plane, you held 'em up. Everybody wants to get home.

SBN: When you eventually retire someday, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?

LC: Well, hopefully that I'm one of the greatest. That would be cool. But that's a very, very difficult accomplishment. I think Jimmie Johnson is definitely on that list.

I hope I'm well-respected and had a long career in this sport. Hopefully, I made a lot of real friends and hopefully I'm welcomed back.

I really have a lot of respect for some of these drivers who can still come around and walk through the garage and people nod at them as they walk by. Like Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader – these guys walk through the garage and people stop what they're doing to acknowledge them. That ability to do that and have people address you like that? That's how I'd want to be remembered.

SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet?

LC: Hmm....I don't know. What kind of people do most people pick for this one?

SBN: A lot of people have picked musicians. Some comedians. No actors yet.

LC: I would want to meet a politician – like a really high-level politician. But then again, they're so vanilla on TV that you don't know what they'd really be like.

I think it'd be cool to meet Lewis Hamilton, the F1 driver. That'd be somebody cool to get to know.

That question kind of deserves more of a broader answer than a specific one. For instance, I'm more of a lifestyle nut. I'm interested in people's lifestyles: What's the lifestyle of a world champion F1 driver? What's the lifestyle of the President of the United States?

If the question was, 'Who would you want to shadow for a year?' then I'd pick the president. I don't really care for our current president, though. But that would be cool.

SBN: Would you rather win a couple huge races and miss the Chase or make the Chase and not win any races?

LC: Oh, I'd rather win big races and miss the Chase – and have a shot at it next year – then not win any races and just be a tagalong in the Chase. It would be tough for me to even list all the drivers who were in the Chase last year. But I guarantee you I can tell you right now who won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard last year.

SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from?

LC: I want to win because I want to beat everybody else. All that other stuff – respect, money, longevity in the sport, fame – that comes with it. If you win races, you're going to get that stuff.

That's all cool, although you could probably ask Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr. about fame and they'll all say, 'I'd give away the fame any day.' I'm not in their position, so I'm sitting here going, 'Fame would be cool! I'd love to be famous.'

That's not why I do it, though. I get just as much pleasure out-running somebody in a Late Model as I do out-running Dale Jr. in a Cup car – I just love beating people and doing things better than they do it in a race car.

That's the whole spirit of competition, I think. It's just a lot harder to do it in the Cup Series than it is anywhere else.

SBN: How much does your personality change inside and outside the car?

LC: I don't think it changes much. I'm a pretty laid-back person. I've gotten wound up on the radio before, but things don't bother me very easily. I think I keep pretty level-headed.

This sport is so much about managing those highs and lows. If you can stop your highs from getting too high and your lows from getting too low, that's important.

Freaking out on the radio and stuff, I don't really do that. That's really dramatic and it's just not me. That's just not what I do. In the same sense, I get excited when we run good, but that's what I'm supposed to do – to run good and win.

When I do win, I want to enjoy it and be emotional. But I'll expect to be back there, too.

SBN: If you could switch lives with a different athlete from another sport, who would you want to be?

LC: The raw answer to this would be Tiger Woods. (laughs) But the politically correct answer is Phil Mickelson.

There's so many different ways you could make this sound bad, but I'd like to be Tiger Woods before he got caught. But not for that reason. It's just he was so dominant before that.

I was watching the Masters recently and thinking, 'I wish I was a professional golfer.' How freaking cool would that be? That sport is just all ability. It's just totally performance-based – and plus, it's something awesome to be good at. Everybody has respect for golf. Everybody understands how hard golf is – because everybody's tried it.

Not everybody knows how hard racing is. It's really easy for people to look at racing and go (uses dumb voice), 'Well, I could drive a car and turn left.' You know? But golf, man, if somebody said, 'Well, I could put a ball in a hole,' you'd say, 'Really? Here are your clubs. Try it.'

SBN: If you could take a year away from NASCAR and go do whatever you wanted, then come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed, would you want to do it?

LC: I would – but not yet. I wouldn't do it now. It was unfortunate Brian Vickers had a health issue, but if it was going to happen, the timing was ideal. It was almost like a halftime break of his career. He's been Cup racing for a hard six, seven years and then took a break. Now he'll go another 10 years, and that might be the end of his career.

For me, I'm in the first year of my career. So, no, I don't want to do it next year. I might want to do it maybe six years from now. I'd love to do that.

I wouldn't spend as much time traveling the world as I would just getting myself together. Like organizing myself, you know? I have a lot of stuff in my life that's scattered. And don't even take that to be some deep meaning – I mean it's literally scattered.

My driving equipment, my T-shirts, my helmets. I'd love to take the time – the couple months that it would take – to get organized. I'd get all my helmets painted nicely, get all my firesuits done, get everything boxed up and organized. Maybe I could get a shop somewhere or an office.

I would love to take that time to just rebuild everything I've got – my web site and all that stuff – and make it better. Because I don't have full-time people to take care of that.

SBN: If you're going to win the championship, would you rather have it clinched before Homestead or win it on Turn 4 of the last lap of the season?

LC: In hindsight, I'd rather win it with a last-lap pass. But if I had the choice going into it right now and not knowing what's going to happen, I'd rather have it locked up. It's more dramatic and you're more of a hero if you win it with a last-lap pass, but sometimes it's not always good to try and be a hero.