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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NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

MORE: Toyota looking to expand its NASCAR presence

Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

MORE: Surveying key race dates for 2023

4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

MORE: Legacy MC looking to make a leap forward

9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.

 

 

 

SunnyD to sponsor Kevin Harvick in two races, Riley Herbst in Daytona 500

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Kevin Harvick has picked up a sponsor for the new season, and Riley Herbst has picked up a ride in the Daytona 500.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that orange drink SunnyD will be the primary sponsor for Harvick’s No. 4 Ford at Darlington Raceway (May 14) and Kansas Speedway (Sept. 10).

SunnyD also will be the sponsor for Herbst as he joins the entry list for the Daytona 500 in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing car. The orange drink also will be an associate sponsor for Herbst in the No. 98 Xfinity car fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing in the Xfinity Series.

The 2023 season will be Harvick’s final year as a full-time Cup driver.

MORE: Toyota looking to expand its presence in NASCAR

The Daytona 500 will mark Herbst’s first Cup Series start. The 24-year-old native of Las Vegas has made 109 Xfinity Series starts.

“It’s great to have Riley making his first NASCAR Cup Series start with RWR and be a part of the next step in his career,” said team owner Rick Ware in a statement released by the team.

“As a kid you always dream of being able to race in the Daytona 500, and I’m able to accomplish that with Rick Ware Racing,” Herbst said. “It’s such a big event and for it to be my first Cup start will be a crazy experience.”

 

 

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).

Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, there were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.