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NASCAR’s Landon Cassill seeking breakthrough in 2017

By Luke Meredith

AP Sports Writer

Unheralded NASCAR driver Landon Cassill has set himself apart as something of a social media savant.

Starting in 2017, Cassill would also like to be known for his racing skills.

Cassill’s approachable, fashion-friendly persona has been a hit on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But none of Cassill’s posts or tweets can mask the fact that he hasn’t won a race in eight seasons in NASCAR’s top three circuits. Cassill, 27, has just one top-10 finish in 224 career starts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heading into Sunday’s race in Atlanta.

Cassill survived last weekend’s wreck-filled Daytona 500, finishing 16th.

“My goal is to be on kill every single week, pretty much. I feel like I want to do something extraordinary,” he said. “Whether it’s this year or next year or whenever it is, I know at some point I need to win a race. I need to make the playoffs. That’s where my head is at.”

Cassill’s somewhat unlikely rise through NASCAR began in Iowa, a state with a long dirt-track history but short on producing drivers who’ve found top-tier success.

Cassill, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, showed enough talent as a youngster to earn a spot as a test driver for powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports in 2007. He joined NASCAR’s top series in 2011 and has since driven for smaller teams that lack the resources to post consistent podium finishes.

But Cassill has found stability in 2017. It’ll be his second season with Front Row Motorsports, which was founded in 2004 and landed in the playoffs for the first time a year ago with Chris Buescher. The team field Cassill in the No. 34 this season and David Ragan in the No. 38 car.

“We’ve definitely closed the gap some. There’s more to go. But we definitely have made a pretty big improvement from last year to this year…as far as speed goes,” said Donnie Wingo, Cassill’s crew chief.

While Cassill has struggled to find success on the track, he proved to be a natural online. He jumped into social media with a MySpace page in high school and gravitated toward Facebook , Instagram and Snapchat.

Though he doesn’t have a Dale Earnhardt Jr.-like following, Cassill has drawn some non-racing fans by posting as much about his off-track life. Cassill is a triathlete, and GQ named him “NASCAR’s Most Stylish Driver” in 2016.

“I can genuinely tell you it’s organic. I’m from the generation of kids that grew up with computers… (and) I developed those skills just any other millennial did,” Cassill said. “It’s evolved for me from a personal thing to a blended professional outreach.”

But even Cassill knows that his online popularity won’t matter much if doesn’t start notching better finishes.

Cassill said that the focus of 2016, when his car lacked a consistent sponsor, was to lay the groundwork for this season. But nearly all of Cassill’s scheduled races in 2017 have a sponsor behind it, and he said that he’s putting pressure on himself to perform this season.

Cassill knows he isn’t expected to make the playoffs, but his focus for 2017 is to push past middling goals.

“I’m not trying to meet an expectation. I really want to blow this thing out of the water,” Cassill said.

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More auto racing at www.racing.ap.org

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