As a manner of habit, Landon Cassill tries to keep as many firesuits he’s had in his racing career as he can. And in Cassill’s collection, there are a few that stand out.

Cassill has a few firesuits — with sponsorship logos from Unilever brands like Hellmann’s and Klondike — that he was supposed to wear in 2009. But then, the Great Recession and sponsorship money shriveling up altered JR Motorsports’ plans. And instead of taking the next step from Rookie of the Year to week-to-week contender in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the 19-year old Cassill was left on the sidelines and without a ride.

For Cassill, it was a difficult time. But looking back, he now believes it’s the time where he truly became a professional race car driver. For it’s one where he began to go where other drivers had not or would not — An approach that has since served him well.

“If you intend to have success, you’ve got to have an edge I guess,” Cassill told CBS Sports. “And so the easiest way I think I’ve always found to have an edge is by just playing a field that your competitors are not playing in.”

For the first time in many years, Cassill is driving in top equipment in 2022 as the full-time driver of Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 in the Xfinity Series while also racing a part-time Cup schedule for Spire Motorsports. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native finally reaching the top of the totem pole again comes after years of work to not only build sponsorship support, but also of building his brand and making himself marketable in ways that hadn’t been thought of.

Like most drivers, Cassill created a presence for himself on social media platforms in the late-2000s as they became more pervasive and a greater part of the sports industry. But while many showed little of their personality and left their accounts to be managed by others, Cassill was right in his element.

Having spent a lot of time online as a teenager, Cassill became fluent in meme culture well before it went mainstream while exploring sites like Reddit, 4chan, and Something Awful — places whose social rules are rooted in irreverence and all brands of silliness. And with that, Cassill had a great grasp of the new world of social media and how he could use it to both make a name for himself and grow his relationships with race fans.

“I think I just kind of was comfortable expressing myself on social media platforms, and also maybe early on felt comfortable with the social rules of social media,” Cassill said. “So it was just kind of another way to express myself and communicate with fans directly too.

“I mean, that’s what’s amazing about social media. Most of the time, the only time you really get to communicate with fans are if you’re at the track and they either have access to the garage or you go to an appearance and you get a couple minutes, a couple seconds with them. But in the modern day, replying to somebody or acknowledging their post or having a short conversation with them on social media is just as exciting and just as valuable as seeing them in-person.”

As Cassill began to drive for mid-level Cup and Xfinity teams, his social media use began to provide a way for him to offer extra value to sponsors: Whether it was co-opting a viral meme with his own number 38, or sending an intern on a fool’s errand to order the “Landon Cassill Crispy Taco” at Taco Bell (It didn’t exist, but Taco Bell was looking for some extra exposure as a sponsor of Cassill’s team).

Beyond posting, the Internet also availed Cassill the opportunity to gain sponsorship and build relationships through being a sim racing promoter: When sim racing took off in popularity during COVID lockdowns, Cassill painted his car in Blue-Emu colors and had the company sponsor his live streams, which later morphed into the annual Blue-Emu Firecracker 400 sim race. A similar race, the Carnomaly 500, then followed. In both cases, the sim racing partnership turned into real-world sponsorship for Cassill.

Cassill’s zigging where others would zag, in part, helped lead him into the new frontier of cryptocurrency: last year, Cassill picked up sponsorship mid-season from Voyager, a highly-rated crypto trading app. And for 2022, Voyager expanded their commitment to Cassill by helping bring him to Kaulig — the culmination of not only years of building relationships in crypto, but also years of working his way back into an opportunity to win races.

“I think that maybe is part of my personality of just going where other people are not,” Cassill said. “… The crypto stuff is something I’m really proud of and really happy to have, because I’ve been working on it for many years. This isn’t something that just popped up last year: It’s something that I started working on back in 2018 in terms of the networking, and then even before that in terms of my personal investment in crypto.

“But the networking and the relationship-building side of crypto, for me, has been something I’ve been building since 2018, 2019. It’s really paying off, and I can’t be more proud of that.”

Last week at Las Vegas, Cassill’s payoff was a sixth-place finish. His first Top 10 since 2019, and his best finish since he ran third in a race at Daytona 11 years ago. Cassill’s Twitter account was inundated post-race with replies of “No Stripe” — a Cassill-produced meme phrase posted when he brings his car home without any marks on the right side.

For a driver who’s had to wait to get to run sixth, outings like the one he had in Vegas are enormously rewarding. But when a driver who’s raced in mid-tier equipment finally gets a shot in a winning car, there’s the risk of the crushing burden of expectations setting in. Specifically, the idea that everything is going poorly and they’ll never get an opportunity like this again if they don’t run Top 5 or Top 10.

Admittedly, Cassill is still trying to figure out how to not put undue pressure on himself. But at 32, he has adopted a mindset of being neutral about his results as long as he prepares the way he needs to.

“I can’t really control the results. But what I can control is the work that I put in and the process and just the preparation, and trust in that as long as I keep everything that I can control to the best of my ability, do everything to the best of my ability, the results are gonna come,” Cassill said. “If that means we run 12th or 15th today or fifth, that’s the right result for what I’ve done.

“I’m just putting in the work, I’m doing everything that I can control to the best of my ability, and just believing that the process will work itself out.”