Friday 5: Joey Gase’s bond with his mother remains strong 10 years after her death

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Loss and life intertwine in the green bracelet Joey Gase wears on his right wrist. Given to him at his mother’s funeral, he’s not taken it off. Saturday marks 10 years since she died of a brain aneurysm.

“You’re always waiting for the doctor to tell you, ‘Hey, it’s going to be OK. It might be a process, but we can fix this. She’s going to be all right,’” Gase told NBC Sports.

Instead, amid the shock and grief that Mary Gase’s life could not be saved, an 18-year-old Joey Gase and his family were asked if they would consent to her being an organ and tissue donor.

They didn’t know what she would have wanted. The topic had never been discussed.

“No one wants to think about death, so people don’t talk about (organ donation),” said Gase, who is in his second Cup season with Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase and his mother Mary Gase. (Photo: Joey Gase)

The family knew that she had wanted to be a blood donor but did not meet minimum weight requirements. Gase said that the family thought about how she was a “very loving and caring person. … If she couldn’t continue her life, she would want to help others continue theirs.”

With his parents divorced, it was Gase’s responsibility to sign the paperwork authorizing the organ and tissue donation.

After they returned home from the hospital, the family retrieved Mary Gase’s driver’s license and saw she had agreed to be an organ and tissue donor.

Joey Gase said that his mother’s organs and tissue aided 66 people. It’s not uncommon for that many people to be helped. Donate Life America states that a deceased person’s organs can save up to eight lives, their eyes can restore sight to two people and their tissue can help more than 75 people.

But the impact is much more, as Gase notes, calling it the ripple effect of organ donation.

“We didn’t really realize that until I met two of her recipients, not only how thankful they were, but also their friends and family and how thankful they were,” Gase told NBC Sports. “You go back and think about how many people … that they personally know.

“You’re not only helping that person that actually receives that gift, you’re actually also affecting all those people that they know as well. It’s really a crazy thought how many people it really does impact and help.”

Even so, the demand remains great with more than 100,000 people awaiting lifesaving organ transplants. April is National Donate Life Month.  

Gase turned his experience into a cause with his NASCAR racing. Donate to Life state networks and organ donor groups are among his sponsors. His cars, at select races, have handprints for donors, recipients and those in the donor community to sign and add a special message.

All of Gase’s cars carry a decal next to his name above the driver’s side door that pays tribute to Mary Gase.

NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Joey Gase’s car at the March race at Atlanta featured several handprints from donors, recipients and those in the donor community. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

She died a few months before Gase made his NASCAR debut. He finished 20th in the Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway in August 2011, a race known for its bizarre ending. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s engine blew coming to the finish line. Teammate Carl Edwards, sliding in the fluid, slammed into Stenhouse’s car and pushed it across the finish line, giving Stenhouse the win.

The success Gase, a second-generation racer, had at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been difficult replicate in NASCAR. The search for sponsorship and rides can prove challenging and, at times, disheartening for many competitors. That Gase has run 244 Xfinity races, 77 Cup races and four Truck events shows the perseverance he inherited from his mother.

“She always told us that whatever you put your mind to you can accomplish,” Gase said. “A lot of people may not really take that word for word, but I really did.

“I was a kid from Iowa. I wasn’t very popular in school. I was always kind of the kid that everyone made fun of because I did something different and that was race. That’s all I really ever wanted to do or talked about. She told me that if I wanted to do this, I could, and I could make it happen. That’s something I’ve really, truly taken and put my mind to.”

His mother also took to his racing after not being excited about when Gase’s father gave him a go-kart at age 4. But she was the one at his races yelling from the stands “Go Joey Go!”

As Gase reminisces, other memories emerge. His mother was known for making cookies and giving them to friends and family. Gase would help her make cookies, chocolate chip his favorite. One thing she did with her family was go to tree farm to get their Christmas tree. It’s a tradition that Gase continues wife Caitlin and twin 16-month-old boys Jace and Carson.

“It’s definitely hard knowing that my mom was never able to meet them and see them,” Gase said of his sons. “She would be proud. Everyone says their kids are the best and stuff like that. Our kids are unbelievably good … and I feel like my mom has a lot to do with that and watching over them. We had a little bit of a health scare with them being premature. She made sure they’re all good now, and they’ve been perfectly healthy ever since. She has a big part in that.”

2. Playoff pressure building

With seven different winners to open the Cup season, talk has centered on if this will be the first year all 16 drivers must win to make the playoffs.

Such talk overlooks what could be a bigger issue for the playoffs.

NBC Sports analyst Dale Jarrett noted in this week’s Splash & Go that all the different winners have kept any driver from accumulating a sizable number of playoff points, keeping the field close.

Kyle Larson has scored the most playoff points this season with eight. Six drivers are within three playoff points of Larson. That’s the most drivers within three playoff points of the leader at this time in the season since those points were added before the 2017 campaign.

Here are the drivers with the most playoff points after this season’s first seven races:

8 — Kyle Larson (1 win, 3 stage wins)

7 — Joey Logano (1 win, 2 stage wins)

6 — Martin Truex Jr. (1 win, 1 stage win)

6 — William Byron (1 win, 1 stage win)

6 — Ryan Blaney (1 win, 1 stage win)

5 — Christopher Bell (1 win)

5 — Michael McDowell (1 win)

With about three quarters of the regular season remaining, there’s plenty of time for gaps to build. History shows that those who build playoff points early continue to do so throughout the regular season and advance deep in the playoffs.

Each of the past four seasons, the driver who had the most playoff points after the first seven races advanced to the championship race. In three of those four years, the driver who ranked second in playoff points at this time of the season also made it to the title race.

Should this season’s parity continue, it will be harder for drivers to have a significant cushion in the playoffs and be able to offset a bad race.

“This is going to make those first couple of rounds even more interesting if this continues,” Jarrett said.

NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty noted: “I don’t see anybody jumping out of the pack and being able to build that cushion. … They’re going to have to make something happen in every round.”

3. Searching for a charter

Trackhouse Racing leases a charter this season from Spire Motorsports, meaning the team doesn’t have one in place for next season. A charter guarantees a team a starting spot in each Cup race and provides financial benefits.

Trackhouse had to lease a charter this season after losing out on two charters to other bidders and having a deal for another charter nixed when an owner decided not to sell it.

Justin Marks, who co-owns the team with Pitbull, was asked this week about the progress he’s made on acquiring one of the 36 Cup charters for next season.

“I lose a little bit sleep every single night because we don’t have a charter,” he said. “That is the biggest element of exposure for this company in this sport. I’m working everyday in the direction of trying to secure our future by orchestrating ownership and acquisition of a charter. It is not getting easier. It is getting harder.

“There are multiple avenues that we are exploring right now that go beyond just charter acquisition, maybe a larger-scale transaction where a charter is part of the transaction. We’re looking at everything.”

The first-year team is coming off a season-best fourth-place finish by Daniel Suarez on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway.

4. Goals changed?

After finishing ninth Monday at Bristol for his second top 10 in the last four races for Richard Petty Motorsports, Erik Jones was asked this week if his goals have changed since the start of the season.

“I think they’re pretty similar to what we had at the start,” said Jones, who is 22nd in the season standings, 50 points from what would be the final playoff spot. “Going into the season, I was wanting to run – obviously, a top 10 is a great weekend and anything more than that is a bonus. For me, the playoffs is still the goal.

“Obviously, it’s getting tougher by the weekend. We’ve had seven different winners now in seven races, so we’re working our way pretty quickly to that 16-winner mark, which would be tough to make the playoffs, obviously, without a win at that point. You’ll have to have one.

“That’s still the ultimate goal: Making the playoffs at the end of the season. I think it’s attainable. We’ve been moving up in points each week, and we’ve just gotta keep that direction going. At the end of the day, making the playoffs and hopefully winning a race would be a huge successful year for us.”

5. Busy stretch after weekend off

All three NASCAR series are off this weekend for Easter. After this weekend, the Cup Series will race 15 consecutive weekends before its next break (July 25).

Among the Cup races in this upcoming stretch will be first-time visits to Circuit of the Americas (May 23), Nashville Superspeedway (June 20) and Road America (July 4).

This 15-week stretch also includes the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (May 30), the All-Star Race at Texas (June 13) and the Pocono doubleheader weekend (June 26-27).

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Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

Saturday Talladega Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.

 

Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.