Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
Nearly 17 months after he won the Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year award for JR Motorsports, Landon Cassill is getting back behind the wheel of a Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned race car.
What took so long? Cassill isn’t sure, but he doesn’t seem to care, either. He’s simply excited to be driving JRM’s No. 7 Chevrolet in the next four races, beginning with Friday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.
"I don’t know what it was that got the call made," Cassill said. "I’d helped out Danica (Patrick) in Las Vegas and was working with JR Motorsports in that sense. They really decided to jump in with both feet and try to make this car get to every race. It really is too good of equipment to be at the shop.
"Finally, though, yeah, I’m finally happy to be back in the car."
Cassill won the rookie title in 2008, winning a pole and posting five top-10 finishes in 19 starts for JRM. But sponsorship issues put Cassill on the sideline for 2009, and he ran one race — for Phoenix Racing.
Naturally, Cassill wants to do well in his stint in the No. 7, but he’s not trying to prove he belonged in the No. 88 instead of teammate Kelly Bires. No, Cassill instead said he wants to be a good teammate to Bires.
"I’m not trying to go out and say, ‘Ha, you should’ve hired me in the first place,’ " Cassill said. "That’s not it at all, I’m just glad to be driving for Go Daddy and for JR Motorsports and to be part of the team.
"Being in a race car, there’s nothing better. I’m just ready to remind everybody what I can do in a race car."
What can he do after being out for so long? Cassill said he can "run what the car is capable of doing," whatever performance that is.
"He’s got a lot of ambition right now," Bires said. "He wants to get in the car. He’s a good driver, and I think he’s going to be a good teammate."
Cassill said he has a good relationship with Earnhardt and JRM co-owner Kelley Earnhardt, dispelling notions he was sidelined because he and Dale Jr. didn’t get along.
"They’re great," Cassill said. "It was cool when I sat down, and they said, ‘Hey, we need you to drive this car. You’re our guy. … We feel like you can (take) this team and do what we need you to do.’ I’d say I have a good relationship with them."
What: Bashas’ Supermarkets 200
Where: Phoenix International Raceway; Avondale, Ariz.
When: Friday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern
TV: ESPN, 9 p.m. Eastern
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128
Track layout: 1 -mile oval
Race distance: 200 laps/200 miles
Qualifying: Friday, 5:10 p.m. Eastern
2009 winner: Greg Biffle
2009 polesitter: Carl Edwards
Points leaders: 1. Carl Edwards, 820; 2. Brad Keselowski, 804; 3. Justin Allgaier, 799; 4. Kyle Busch, 764; 5. Kevin Harvick, 759; 6. Paul Menard, 658; 7. Joey Logano, 589; 8. Mike Wallace, 570; 9. Greg Biffle, 563; 10. Michael Annett, 544.