Landon Cassill lost the Fontana lead, but won air time and hearts

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It’s hard not to love a good underdog story and for about 10 to 15 minutes in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Landon Cassill was that underdog story.

The driver of the No. 40 Hillman Racing Chevrolet opted not to pit during the final caution flag that set up the green-white-checkered finish. So he’d be leading on the restart, on old tires, knowing full well he’d be a sitting duck once the green flew.

No matter. Cassill did the responsible thing and got out of the way to allow all the faster cars on new tires through, and eventually faded back to 25th over two laps. Which, for the small operation, is still a darn good result.

But he’d generated a wealth of buzz and attention for he and his small team, and trended nationally on Twitter.

In an interview with The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Cassill said he knew was a sitting duck, but the gamble was well worth it.

“We knew we were a sitting duck,” he said. “By staying out and keeping 25 cars on the lead lap, I basically ensured my worst finish would be 25th.

“At that point, it doesn’t even matter (what the spotter says). I knew my agenda on that restart was to get a clean start, get to the start finish line and then get to the outside so that they could all do their thing on the bottom.”

Cassill finished 12th at the Daytona 500 to lead the underdogs there. He’s not running for Cup points, but story lines are not limited by series, and his brief run at the front generated way more than just “he finished 25th.”

From Joe Falk, who runs the team:

Malcolm Stewart sidelined by knee surgery for ‘extended duration’

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The knee injury that kept Malcolm Stewart from mounting up for Anaheim 2 will require surgery and he will be sidelined for “an extended duration” of the Monster Energy Supercross season, according to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team.

“I just wanted to give you guys an update,” Stewart said on Instagram. “It’s not the news you guys want to hear, but I took a spill last week and hurt my knee pretty bad to the point that we’re going to have to get surgery done.

“I’m definitely bummed out about it; I felt we were riding pretty good and were just now starting to get the ball rolling, but it is what it is.”

Stewart’s season started with high expectations until accidents in the first two rounds left him 15th in the standings.

He ended 2022 on a high note, finishing a career high third in the Supercross standings. He then missed the start of the Pro Motocross season with another knee injury.

The 2023 season appeared to live up to his expectations. Despite back-to-back accidents, Stewart contended for podiums at both Anaheim 1 and San Diego. He won his heat at San Diego.

“It was very tough to receive the news that Malcolm will need to undergo knee surgery,” Nathan Ramsey, Team Manager for the Husqvarna team said in a press release. “He has worked so hard to be in a position to win races this year and I truly believe he was ready.

“The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing program will support him in every way that we can through his recovery and we can’t wait to get him back on track and back at the races.”

Stewart joins 250 rider Jalek Swoll on the sidelines after he broke an arm in a practice session. Swoll will be relieved by Talon Hawkins beginning this week at Houston, Texas.

A replacement rider has not been announced for Stewart, which means the focus shifts to his 450 teammate Christian Craig, who currently sits 12th in the standings with three top-15s in the opening rounds.