Social Spotlight with Landon Cassill

The “Social Spotlight” series continues this week with Landon Cassill, who drives the No. 34 car for Front Row Motorsports. This interview is available in both podcast and written form.

How would you describe your social media philosophy?

I’m a child of the internet, as we all are, for the most part. I’m your typical Millennial, I think. I grew up doing school work on the internet, playing video games on the internet. I feel like internet culture is part of my life, so I kind of just live it out that way. It’s kind of an extension of me.

What was the first social media platform you used?

Xanga was my first social media platform.

What was Xanga?

Xanga was a blog site. Me and my friends had Xanga pages and we’d just post daily content, I guess. (Laughs) It’s all pretty similar — everything has kind of moved from one to the other.

Back then, you’d get home from school, log onto the internet on my computer at home — we had dial-up internet for the longest time — and log onto my Xanga account and make an update about something that happened at school. Then I’d check it every couple hours to see if anybody liked it. You could leave comments and things like that, customize your page. It was kind of cool.

You’re on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. But do you operate your own Facebook?

My Facebook is kind of a collaboration. The biggest thing I do on Facebook is Facebook Live. I scroll through my timeline a lot and see what people comment on pages. I don’t use a personal Facebook page, so it’s not in my habit to be logging onto Facebook a lot. But I love Facebook Live, I love that platform. So I do kind of go in spurts where I’ll be on Facebook an awful lot if I’m posting live content.

For Instagram, I don’t feel like I’m the best photographer and it’s not in me to always stop and take pictures. So my Instagram content is kind of intermittent. But the one thing I really like about Instagram right now is Instagram Live. The content disappears, so you catch it live. There’s no rewinding, you don’t get to see the beginning of the video. You’re just watching it live as it happens, and then once the person logs off the live feed, that’s it. It’s gone. As the host, you see how many people watch your video, and that’s pretty much it. I really like Instagram Live, because it’s a cheap and easy way to see what’s going on out there.

Snapchat is cool. Twitter is where I spend most of my time, mainly because I think it’s folded into my daily life. I spend probably 75% of my time on Twitter reading the news and other content, and less than 25% of my time actually engaging.

Going back to the live stuff for a minute — I’ve never used Instagram Live because it disappears. Why do you like it better than Periscope or Facebook Live, which sticks around on your page?

I think it’s kind of a way for me to post unique, personal, native content on Instagram — but then not have to have that airing out for an extended period of time. That’s one purpose that it serves that I like about it. Because even as authentic as Facebook Live is, it’s still a little planned out.

For instance: After the Daytona 500, I did a recap where I stopped at Love’s Travel Stops (his sponsor) and got fuel on the way home from the Daytona 500. Which it was totally natural — there was nothing staged about that; I needed gas for my truck and there was a Love’s Travel Stop off the interstate. Like I was stopping there anyway.

I was like, “Man, I’ve kind of been wanting to do race recaps and talk to my fans, so what better way to do it than on Facebook?” So that was a very authentic post and it was a real thing that happened, but it was also something in the back of your mind, I know that content is going to stay on Facebook and get more views and for people to see it and follow up with that recap.

Where on Instagram, I can just pull my phone out walking out of the garage to the car and have literally no plan whatsoever and have no idea what I’m going to do, but just fire up Instagram Live and see who’s watching.

The other day, I was on Instagram Live and somebody I hadn’t talked to in five years who I went to high school with was like, “Hey, Landon!” And it was like, “Oh my gosh! Tyler, I haven’t seen you in five years! How’s it going, man?” And then it sparked a conversation, made you think of a story, you tell a quick story and then you get to your car and you log off and it’s gone.

It’s really just an authentic experience between you and your viewers and then I think it serves a value to Instagram because a lot of people have notifications turned on, and Instagram sends out a notification that says “Landon Cassill is live.” I think the platforms are thinking people can’t help themselves. They have to see what’s going on. I think it’s like free advertisement for your page. It’s a good way to drive people to your site.

You’re excellent at Snapchat, but it doesn’t seem like you love it as much as you love Twitter. Has your love affair with Snapchat cooled? And how many people do you follow on Snapchat?

I follow just a handful of people on Snapchat. Snapchat isn’t my primary source of news, and I feel like I’m super interested in news. Twitter is just a really good platform for that right now.

I do like watching people’s snaps. Snapchat is really cool because they have some neat technology none of the other platforms have. The facial recognition stuff and even the object recognition stuff that is in their platform, that’s probably what they’re going to be positioning themselves to really pop here in the next couple years. Especially since they’ve gone public, they’re injected with a crapload of money.

I follow NASCAR, Lewis Hamilton, a couple friends of mine, Jordan Anderson, Gary Vee (Vaynerchuk), Kim Kardashian, my sister Echo. And then I have a couple group messages with friends and some friends that send me snaps on a daily basis. I’ll probably be going in and out of Snapchat over the course of the year.

Let’s talk about Twitter, since you use that the most. Is it the first thing you check in the morning? Do you ever worry you’re looking at it too much? Because we hear about the Twitter vacuum.

Yeah, I’m probably stuck in the Twitter vacuum. It’s definitely the first thing I check in the morning. I don’t watch a lot of TV other than Netflix — my wife and I have shows we watch — so I get all of my news, my gossip, pretty much my social information from my Twitter timeline. Everything serious, everything humorous. I follow my favorite weatherman on Twitter. Political stuff. It’s pretty much Twitter for me.

If you have people who are giving you a hard time, do you block them, mute them or ignore them?

I don’t block people. Actually, if somebody is giving me a hard time, I take the time to try and win them over. (Laughs) Honestly, it works every time. I have won over fans that were talking so much crap and I would just engage with them. They just want attention. Now, I don’t get a lot of people hating on me on Twitter. When I do get someone, it’s like, “Oh, I’m going to see what’s crawled up this guy’s butt and just talk to him a little bit” and it always works.

But if you’re like Dale Jr. or Brad Keselowski or some really polarizing figure in the sport, they probably get hundreds of those a day. I wouldn’t be doing that at that point.

I don’t like blocking people. I don’t like silencing people. I don’t think that’s cool. But I do mute people — and that’s just if their timeline is annoying.

So people you follow — you mute them?

I definitely have people I follow that I mute. And that’s just because I don’t really want to unfollow them. I have people I’m friends with that I just don’t like their regular content. But if they tweeted me, I want to see a notification so I can engage in conversation. So I mute them. That’s my solution. But blocking people? I’m not into that. I’m not into silencing people.

What do you think the future of Twitter is? We hear a lot about how Millennials don’t get on Twitter and they go straight to Snapchat. Is Twitter going to go the way of MySpace?

I’m not really sure. People said the same thing about Facebook, but Facebook had the strength of a billion users. Twitter has been up and down and the one thing that’s tough about Twitter are a lot of the bots that are on there.

Yeah, what’s up with the bots?

It’s just weird. You don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know if it’s a problem with Twitter. I feel like Twitter did a good job with one of their recent algorithms. They made an update where verified accounts or accounts with seemingly original content are higher up in the replies list of other verified accounts. So that got rid of a lot of the shit-posting, pretty much. But that still happens an awful lot.

Twitter is a cool thing, and for me, until I find a better place to get my news and a better place to get a constant stream of updates, it’s going to be hard to find another platform. I’ve got almost six or seven years of time invested in this one platform for all the people I follow.

Unlike a lot of drivers, you’ve built relationships and made friends with people through Twitter — fans of yours, people who have cool content. Why were you willing to do that? 

Man, why not? I’m just a regular person, and I like to get to know people and I like to learn from people who have different points of view and have different skills. So I’ve made a lot of friends online in all kinds of industries. In a lot of ways, those networking moves and relationships I’ve built have gotten me a lot of interesting media attention and opportunities on platforms outside of just NASCAR racing. I’ve built a lot of genuine friendships and I’ve learned a lot of cool things from people and I think that’s just natural for me. I don’t put myself on a pedestal or anything. I’m a NASCAR driver, but I’m kind of just like anybody else.

How many people you’ve met through Twitter have your personal cell phone number?

Probably quite a few. I mean, more than you could count on two hands.

So no problems with that?

Not really. I don’t just give it out to anybody. But how is it different letting someone have your cell phone number than letting them in your direct messages? Like, the notification comes through the same way. Shoot, with Snapchat you can call someone. You can video call with someone. You have the same capabilities. To me, it’s all the same thing.

Landon Cassill’s social accounts: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

Thoughts on New Hampshire losing a race

In the brief time since it was made official this afternoon that New Hampshire Motor Speedway is losing its September race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2018, I’ve seen plenty of NASCAR fans grumbling on Twitter about the loss of a short track and the addition of another cookie cutter 1.5-mile track.

Usually I’d be right there with them (More short tracks!!!) but not in the case of New Hampshire. The truth is NHMS is not a very exciting track for stock cars.

When is the last great NHMS Cup race you’ve seen? I asked myself that as well, and I can’t remember one. The common refrain during New Hampshire weekend is the Modified race is the best event at the track, and that’s true — not only because it’s a good race, but because the Cup race is usually a bad one.

Last year, both New Hampshire races rated in the bottom seven points races of my weekly “Was it a good race?” Twitter poll. And that’s where they should have been, because they weren’t very good races.

Let’s just be honest here: As much as cookie cutter tracks are boring, Las Vegas had a better race than NHMS last year (71 percent of people liked that race as opposed to 50 percent and 48 percent for the two New Hampshire races, respectively). If you want to call NHMS a short track because it’s only 1 mile, then I guess that’s fine — but it certainly doesn’t race like one.

Plus, it’s not like NASCAR isn’t going there at all anymore — just one less time. Seriously, did NASCAR really need to visit New Hampshire twice in 10 weeks every year? I don’t think so.

Look, it would suck if this was going to add another 1.5-mile track to the playoffs and the overall schedule, but it’s not. As Nate Ryan reported yesterday, they’re likely going to take the Charlotte fall race and run it on the infield road course.

So what is NASCAR really trading here? The actual swap is a ho-hum flat track race in exchange for a road race — in the playoffs!

What’s so wrong with that?

Survivor Game Changers Power Rankings: Week 1

Ohhhhh yeah! It’s time for another season of Survivor (premieres tonight on CBS), so let’s rank which castaways have the best shot at winning it all.

This season is Survivor: Game Changersand 20 returning players (some of them game changers, some of them not really) will try to outwit, outplay and outlast a really fearsome and experienced group. It will be difficult to pull too many tricks or sneaky maneuvers this time around, but that just makes it all the more interesting.

If you haven’t watched Survivor in a few years — or ever — it’s not too late to jump in. Here’s my pitch from last season as to why people should give it another chance.

Here are my picks, in order of best chance to win Sole Survivor:

  1. Zeke. He won’t be viewed as a threat to the same degree as last season, when he stood out (along with David) as major strategists — in part because none of the players who are on this season got to watch him play before they filmed this. He can make friends with anyone, is very clever and won’t be targeted early. I like his chances of making it to the end.
  2. Aubrey. She should have won two seasons ago, and I think her game will be respected (but not feared). She’ll sharpen things up this time and play a calculated, measured game overall.
  3. Malcolm. He’s probably the favorite — but I think that only makes him a bigger target. If he’s around in the final eight, people are going to be whispering his name.
  4. Sandra. Is it possible a two-time winner could be underestimated? It feels like that’s the case for Sandra, which is probably how she’s already won twice. Clearly, she’s doing something right.
  5. Ciera. She’s always upset when people don’t want to play hard, so you know she’s going to be making huge moves. Maybe she’ll end up on the right side of things this time.
  6. Michaela. I could see this going either way for Michaela. If she doesn’t lose her temper, she could definitely make the final three. But I could also see her getting booted early.
  7. Tony. Oh, Tony. Could he pull off another season of Vlachos charm and ride it to a win? I think he’ll be too visible and too big of a target, and he won’t be able to sweet-talk veteran players like he did during Cagayan (C’mon, Woo).
  8. Varner. I hope he resists the urge to play too hard, too early this time. Patience, Varner, patience! Then go for the kill later in the game, after the merge.
  9. Cirie. She’s going to be a threat and the other players will recognize it right away. So that might not work very well long term, unless she’s able to fly under the radar somehow.
  10. Ozzy. You really think this group is going to let one of the all-time great players just skate his way to the merge? No way, if they’re smart (and they are). He’s going to be targeted as soon as he lands on the beach.
  11. J.T. I don’t really remember much about J.T.’s game, except for how he worked with Fishbach during his winning season. Is he able to adapt to the new-school game?
  12. Troyzan. He had the misfortune of going up against one of the smartest players ever, Kim Spradlin, who got the better of him. Let’s see how he does this go-round.
  13. Andrea. She has the experience, can fly under the radar and has been an avid follower of the game long enough to know what mistakes to avoid. That might work out for her if she can get with the right alliance.
  14. Sierra. I don’t love her chances, but she’s also no slouch. Maybe she can make the right moves and end up at final tribal, where anything can happen.
  15. Sarah. Why is she a game changer? I’m not sure. I don’t remember much of her game, except for both she and Tony being cops on their season. Maybe that will allow her avoid being targeted (why would they vote her out if she’s not a threat?) and make it far.
  16. Tai. Everyone loves Tai! Everyone wants to work with Tai! But here’s the thing: Does he play a strategic game? I don’t think so. And so when he’s sitting at final tribal, this group of vets won’t reward him — just like when he lost to Michele.
  17. Caleb. I’m thrilled he’s getting another chance. Really! We watched Beastmode Cowboy on Big Brother and felt bad for him when he got evacuated from Survivor. But is he a strategic player? I’ve never really seen that out of him, so I don’t think he can win.
  18. Hali. I don’t remember much about her, which is why she’s ranked so low. I know it’s only been a few years since she played, but her game just didn’t stand out to me. How is she going to defeat all these ace players?
  19. Debbie. Under no scenario can I see Debbie, who is great TV but not a good player, being rewarded by the jury with a $1 million prize. I just can’t picture that.
  20. Brad. He’s going to piss someone off and get himself voted out before the merge. I just don’t think he can make it very far with the style of game he plays.

12 Questions with Garrett Smithley

The 12 Questions interviews continue this week with Garrett Smithley, driver of the No. 0 car for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. This interview is available in both written and podcast form.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I think you have to have natural ability. I started racing very late compared to a lot of guys. I started at 15 in Bandoleros and Legend cars. When I started racing, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have family that came from a racing background. I’m a first generation racer; my dad never raced. It’s a wonder we went to victory lane at all and won championships.

So I think it has a ton to do with natural ability. I think now that I’m in NASCAR the last few years, racing some Truck races, last year running pretty much a full season with JD Motorsports and coming back for a second full season, I think that’s when I’m really going to have to put in the work.

There’s only so much you can do on your natural ability side, so now I have to work at how to adapt to these tracks, how to adapt to these cars, how to make my car better. Anybody can drive a good-handling race car, it’s those who have to work at how to make that race car better (who stand out). My natural ability has gotten me to this point, now the hard work is going to get me to the next level.

If you started racing so late, how do you think you picked it up so fast? Did you just learn from watching races as a fan?

I think it had a lot to do with watching the sport for so long, going to short track races. My very first stock car race was at Pocono in an ARCA race, so I never did any short track Late Model stuff. I just did Bandolero and Legend cars. I think it was a combination of my ability to adapt and get in the car and know what to do and also just be that sponge.

I’m not that driver that says, “Oh, I know everything.” If somebody has been in the sport for 20 or 30 years — even 10 years — if they tell me something, I’m going to listen to that. And I’m going to take that to heart and apply it to what I’m doing. That’s just how I’ve always been.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I have fun with everything I do. Being in NASCAR, I don’t take it for granted. It’s such an amazing opportunity to be at this level, be at the second-highest stock car series in the world behind the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. I just have so much fun, and I love social media. I love being on Snapchat and Twitter and I love being vocal and interacting with fans. So I just think if you follow me, I have a good time, so I hope my good time translates to fans having good times.

We had a lot of fun last year with the 0 car doing the whole “Number Nuthin” thing. We have Nuthin Nation going. So come on over to Nuthin Nation; we’re having a blast.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

Probably the sponsorship search, to be honest. For me, I’m pretty much making calls and dialing for dollars (during the week), trying to get sponsors in for JD Motorsports. We have some really great partners with Flex Seal and G&K Services and some of my partners I’ve brought from last year — KY FAME and Mubea — but it’s never enough.

Being a small three-car team, competing against Gibbs and RCR and JR Motorsports, it’s tough. It’s kind of the David and Goliath thing. So we always are trying to get more support. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I’m searching for sponsors and trying to get new partners to help us out to compete with those guys. And then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, I’m on the road and here at the racetrack.

But I’ve learned a ton doing that part. I’ve learned very early in my career that to be successful as a race car driver, you have to worry about the business side of it and the marketing side of it. That’s one thing I’ve really taken to heart. When I stop focusing on going racing all the time and being so obsessed with that and started focusing on the business side of it, that’s when I started becoming successful.

Do you cold call people and just hope it works out?

Yeah. So many times, you get 1,000 “nos” before you get that one “yes.” When that one “yes” comes and it’s a big thing, it’s huge.

I’ll sit there and go on Google Maps, look up where we’re racing — especially if we’re doing a standalone Xfinity race — and I’m looking at companies that are around the track and I’m calling, I’m sending emails, I’m doing the whole thing.

How do you deal with the rejection that comes with that? It has to be discouraging at times.

When I was a kid, I was really, really shy. And I was terrified of phone calls. And still to this day, I’m not scared of them, but I still get a little anxiety when I pick up the phone and call somebody for the first time.

You’ve just got to take it with a grain of salt. You’ve got to really realize what you’re doing it for and the payoff when you get to the track on Friday and Saturday and you run that car at a 190 mph. That’s the payoff and that’s why we do it.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

I think maybe this answer might change, maybe if I get to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level. But right now, I mean, yeah. I remember the very first time I got recognized out of my suit. I just thought that was so cool. I think there’s definitely a right way to do it.

We’re always out to dinner when (my parents) come to the racetrack. My mom and dad are very supportive and they’re always involved. Of course, when we’re out and a waiter or waitress asks, “Oh, are you guys in for the race?” (My mom says) “Oh yeah, my son is a NASCAR driver!” I’m always just like, “Oh no.” So that’s a little funny.

But I think there’s a right way to do it. If they come over and ask for the autograph, as long as if (when) you sign and take pictures, they don’t linger, I think that’s fine.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Oh, there’s so many stories. I think just the stories of all the guys behind the scenes. The driver stories always get told on where they started and where they came from and how they got up the ladder. But I think some of the crew guys that work so hard — especially our JD Motorsports team. We’ve got 14 or 15 guys that come out to the racetrack every week — for three cars. And there are teams with 15 guys for one car.

I think the story of our team and what they do at the shop and how hard they’ve worked all offseason — and I mean, that’s across the board, that’s every team, all the way up to the top. These guys work so hard week in and week out, and I think that story needs to be told a little bit more.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably Matt DiBenedetto. He and Ryan Ellis are always hanging out. They’ve been trying to get me to hang out all weekend. They’ve got the whole PR/driver duo thing going on. They’re fun. Ryan just recently got engaged and they had me over for their engagement party and we had a Mario Kart tournament. So we had a good time doing that.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Definitely. I come from a theater background, and when I was 6 or 7 years old, I did my first play with my mom. My parents were always very instrumental in putting us — me and my brother (who is two years younger) in everything. We sang at church, we danced, we did theater, we played baseball, we played football — all kinds of stuff.

They never pushed me to do one certain thing, so it’s kind of crazy when I finally got to the point when I said, “Racing is what I want to do,” they were supportive of it. They could only help so much, but they were always supportive.

So being in theater, I was in plays when I was in high school and I did leads, and there’d be times when I would race in the afternoon, then leave and book it to the theater and do a play that night.

So knowing the similarities behind it, it’s just a different performance. We’re still entertaining — getting the fans involved on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. We’re always trying to be entertaining and fun. I think that’s a lot of what’s missing, and that’s what I like to do.

I like to show my personality. I like to be out there, I like to do crazy things. I did some crazy dress-up thing at Darlington for the throwback weekend. I wore a big afro and platform shoes. You can go look on my Facebook. It’s fun.

What’s a notable role you played in a play or musical?

My very first big lead role — I was a junior in high school — was Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That was so cool to do. And that was pretty much my dream role.

One thing about that: It was really cool, because me and Charlie have a lot of similarities. He was always thinking positive. And my motto on every car I drive is, “Patience, never give up.” So it’s kind of that mantra, and it was really cool to play it on stage.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I don’t think I’ve ever given the middle finger. That’s just not in my character. I mean, I’ll give hand signals like, “Hey, what are you doing?” I’ll get frustrated. (But) I’m not that guy to curse and yell and stuff like that.

I’m super competitive and I want to be the best, but I’ve always been that guy to talk things out. If something is going on, (I’ll say), “Hey man, what was that all about?” Or “Hey, give me some slack.” I only had one or two problems on the track last year, and we talked it out, and it was good afterward. I’ve never (given the finger) and I hope I don’t.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah, 100 percent. We race 33 times a year in the Xfinity Series. If you’re constantly focusing on all the negative and, “Oh, I owe that guy,” you’re never going to be successful. Even that payback list — yeah, you always keep that in the back of your mind (and) maybe you race a little harder because of something they did the previous week. But at the end of the day, if you don’t let it go, you’re going to be fixated on it. My policy is just let it go. Definitely, if it happens again, you may want to say or do something. But you definitely show different guys different respect. If they cut you some slack, you’ll cut them some slack next time.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

When I was 15 or 16 and racing Bandeleros and just starting racing, a buddy of mine was friends with Kyle Petty. And Kyle Petty showed up to dinner, and that was really, really cool, because that was the first time I had really met a NASCAR driver. I haven’t really had many famous dinners, but that one kind of sticks out to me. Because it was like the first time, like, “Oh my gosh, that’s Kyle Petty. That’s so cool.”

He’s a very engaging and friendly guy.

Yeah. He’s always had that personality and is definitely somebody I look up to. My all-time hero in racing was Dale Jarrett. I got to meet him. I had an incident on the track at Kentucky in practice where I got really, really sideways and slid and had a big save. And Dale was like, “Hey, that was awesome. He made an awesome save. I don’t know how he did that.” I was like, “Wow, that’s my hero talking about me making a save on track.” That was so, so cool.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

Probably my organization skills and time management. I’ve never been really (good about) being on time and things like that. I know that’s kind of important. And just organization. I’m kind of a messy person, and everybody says I’m ADD or ADHD. I’ve never been diagnosed or anything like that, but I can get a little scatterbrained at times. I think that’s why I’m so good in the race car, because when I get in, I’m so laser-focused on what I’m doing that it just calms my brain down. So I’d definitely like to be more organized.

12. The question from the last person was Martin Truex Jr. His question is, “Who do you think the team to beat in Cup is this year?”

You gotta say Gibbs, right? I mean, last year, the Xfinity Series, Gibbs had it all wrapped up. Nobody could really touch them until really the end of the year. I think you’ve got to say Gibbs for sure.

And do you have a question for the next interview?

I’m hoping it’s a veteran driver. I’d like to ask when they were a rookie, what are some things they wish they did differently to better themselves?

And maybe follow me on Twitter.

News Analysis: Charlotte Motor Speedway road course will be used for 2018 playoffs

What happened: NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan reported Tuesday the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield road course will likely be used for the 2018 playoffs instead of the 1.5-mile oval.

What it means: Fans will finally get to see the road course race in the playoffs they’ve been asking for, and a third road course will be on the Cup schedule. In addition, this would likely leave New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the top candidate to lose a race in favor of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which is expected to get a second Cup race next season.

News value (scale of 1-10): Seven, because this news has multiple impacts. It not only adds a road course to the playoffs, but it prevents the number of 1.5-mile tracks in the final 10 races from increasing (it would stay at five).

Questions: Is this really it for New Hampshire’s playoff race, or is there some unexpected wrinkle? How will fans react attendance-wise to the Charlotte road course? And will this give a driver like AJ Allmendinger a chance to make a deep playoff run?

Atlanta Post-Race Podcast

Nate Ryan from NBC Sports co-hosts this week’s post-race podcast from his rental car during the drive home from Atlanta Motor Speedway. Nate, who has a much more interesting and professional podcast than this one — the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (check it out!) — successfully navigated the highways surrounding Atlanta while recording this. And yes, we arrived safely.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Atlanta race

Each week, I’ll provide some quick analysis through a post called the Top Five — five notable storylines from the just-completed race. Today: Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Unhappy Harvick

Kevin Harvick absolutely destroyed the field in a performance reminiscent of the ass-kicking Martin Truex Jr. laid on everyone in last year’s Coca-Cola 600.

But there was a big difference. Truex finished off his win, where Harvick blew it with a speeding penalty Sunday on the final pit stop.

At least Harvick owned up to the error after ripping his pit crew multiple times last season when they cost him races. This time, the pit crew was outstanding all day long — and Harvick was the one who failed to close.

“I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make and beat yourself, and then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach,” he said. “That part is hard for me to swallow.”

The talk coming out of Atlanta will focus on his mistake, but in reality, there’s a huge moral victory to be had. The fact Harvick could come out in the first intermediate track race of the season after switching to Ford and be that good is a really positive sign for the rest of the season.

Personally, I thought Stewart-Haas would struggle after leaving Chevrolet and the Hendrick Motorsports alliance. As it turns out, Harvick is as good as ever.

The mistakes? It’s a long season, and they can always be cleaned up.

Don’t give Keselowski a chance

I don’t have the stats to back this up, but it seems like whenever Brad Keselowski gets an shot at a victory — after fighting his way through a comeback — he often capitalizes on it.

Keselowski thrives on adversity and loves when people count him out. It brings out the blue-collar fighter in him, and you can’t let him sniff the lead in that situation or he’ll snatch it away and end up with the trophy.

That’s what he did at Atlanta. His team had a major screw-up after Keselowski had taken the lead on a late pit stop, and Keselowski had to return to the pits to add some lug nuts. He came out 13th, and his chances looked to be over.

Did he have a meltdown or flip out on his team? No. He went back to work, rallied back and was able to pull off one of those signature scrappy wins.

“Everybody stayed focused and nobody had to say anything,” he said. “We know the deal. We know this isn’t going to be easy. You have to keep your head down and keep fighting at all times and that’s what we did.”

Keselowski is easy to overlook. He can come off as a bit of a dork, and other drivers dismiss him at times when he spouts off. But that’s almost always a mistake with Keselowski; he might not look like he could beat you in a fight, but it’s best not to give him a chance.

Hey Dale, so about that new aero package…

What the heck? For all the talk and hype about the new even-lower downforce package, combined with an old track surface that eats tires, the expectations were pretty high for a thrilling race.

As it turned out, there wasn’t much in the way of action until the end. I asked Dale Earnhardt Jr. about why the race seemed, um…

“Uneventful?” he said.

Exactly. No wrecks? No spins?

“We’re all pretty good, I guess,” he said with a smile.

Look, it’s obviously way too early to judge the new aero package. But it was kind of weird that last year’s Atlanta race seemed racier than this year’s. And Earnhardt knew what I was getting at.

He suggested (perhaps half-jokingly) NASCAR should “take more downforce off til we start wreckin’ more.”

“These cars, they did take a lot of spoiler off,” he said. “But we all still have a lot of side force. You can’t even read the damn sponsors on some of the Toyotas, they’ve got such big quarterpanels.”

Side force keeps drivers from spinning out, Earnhardt said. And all the cars –not just the Toyotas — have a lot of it.

“You know how they talk about the Trucks, when they get sideways and they kind of straighten themselves out because they’ve got that big flat side?” he said. “We’ve all kind of got that same thing going on here. The spoiler makes it harder to drive, but still, when we get (out of shape), we get a little side force kicked in and it helps you save it.”

The problem, Earnhardt said, is even if NASCAR cut the side skirts or something along those lines, the teams would likely figure out how to get the cars back to where they were before.

“Look at a picture of Carl Edwards when he won here, passing Jimmie (Johnson in 2005),” Earnhardt said. “Look at where the splitter on those cars is when they cross the finish line. They’re like six inches in the air.

“That’s what we really need to be doing, but you can’t unlearn the engineering we’ve done in these cars. So we’re all going to find a way to keep them sealed up.”

Kahneiacs Rejoice!

Kasey Kahne has missed the Chase for two straight years. Last year, he didn’t lead a lap.

But Kahne’s fans? Man, they are so impressively loyal.

I asked one Kahne fan in Daytona: “If he doesn’t start doing better, how long will you stick it out?”

“Until he retires,” she said. “He’s my driver.”

So those dedicated Kahne fans deserve something to cheer about. And they might get it this season.

Kahne was all smiles when he emerged from his car after a fourth-place finish on Sunday — and not because the car was that good all day. Actually, Kahne and the No. 5 team struggled with many of the same things they had in the last couple seasons. They weren’t very good for much of the race.

But this time, unlike in the past, the team made the right changes, got the car better and got themselves out of a hole. I asked Kahne how significant that was.

“That’s actually really hard to do,” Kahne said. “It’s hard to do when you’re one of the best teams and drivers and running up front all the time. So for us, the last year or two, it’s been really hard — and today we did it.

“That was really nice to see and be part of. We’ll just keep building from there. But yeah, it feels really good to dig out of where we started.”

Another week like this, and Kahne fans might really have reason to start feeling optimistic again. Combined with a top-10 finish in the Daytona 500, Kahne’s Atlanta finish has him eighth in the point standings.

Kahne isn’t starting the season with a deficit this year. That’s a good sign for a driver who needs a rebound.

Get that outta here

At the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 — during the race — small trophies were awarded to the No. 4 team. Stewart-Haas Racing tweeted pictures with crew chief Rodney Childers holding the trophy.

Now, I like the stages and all — they provide a good break for mostly uneventful races like Atlanta — but come on, people!

A trophy for winning a stage?? The stages are cute little excuses for cautions and there are definitely some benefits (I’m a fan!), but let’s not overdo it by giving away trophies. Isn’t a playoff point enough for a stage win?

Fortunately, I’ve been told this is not a NASCAR thing but a track thing. I hope other tracks don’t follow suit. No offense to Atlanta, but one trophy is enough for the race.

NASCAR fans don’t seem like the kind of people who like participation trophies, so let’s just forget this little incident ever happened and bury the stage trophies idea along with the Sprint narwhals.