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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — While Friday was easy for some at Daytona International Speedway, Cedar Rapids native Joey Gase spent his day at the track running back and forth.
Gase is pulling double duty this weekend, making his first start in the Daytona 500 and his fifth season-opening start at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. While he’s raced both series in the same weekend before, Speedweeks at Daytona are a different animal.
While his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team did not practice in the first session Friday, Gase spent the better part of five hours briskly walking the 100 or so yards between the two garage areas in the infield.
“It’s hard. You’re trying not to forget anything or forget what the next thing you have to do,” Gase said at the end of his day, through a laugh. “I’m kind of used to it, doing double duty a few times, but it’s so different this weekend because there’s so much more stuff going on as far as media stuff coming up, photo shoots and stuff like that. It’s hard but it’s been fun.”
As busy as it was going back and forth to spend the four hourlong practices with his pair of teams, there wasn’t actually a ton of track time for the 23-year-old driver.
He made 12 laps in his Cup Series car in the second practice Friday afternoon after his team got the car’s engine changed and minor nose damage fixed during the first session. He finished the session 26th of 28 cars, but only made single-car runs in an effort to simply shake down the fixes they made and a few minor adjustments. The plan for that side of things is to draft on Saturday and fully prepare for the Daytona 500.
Gase’s main focus Friday — other than his several appearances he had to make — was on his full season job in the Xfinity series.
His Jimmy Means Racing car only completed six laps in the two hours of practice, as Gase and the team were focused on making mock qualifying runs to prepare for time trials Saturday morning before the race Saturday afternoon. His No. 52 Chevy does not have a great deal of single-car speed, clocking in at 36th in the first practice and 32nd of the 37 cars that ran in final practice.
The Xfinity Series saw a number of new teams join the series, and nearly all of them either have top-level funding or have affiliations with Cup Series teams. JR Motorsports will have five cars — including fellow Iowan Michael Annett in the No. 5 — Stewart-Haas Racing added a car and Richard Childress Racing will have five cars. That’s a lot to go up against for small teams like Gase’s.
The top 33 cars lock themselves in on speed, with the remaining seven cars qualifying with provisionals. With Gase likely to qualify outside the top 33, he’ll have to sweat the provisional just a bit. With owners points banked from last year, though, Gase is confident he’ll be racing Saturday no matter what.
“We won’t be last, I don’t think. I don’t know. It’s really hard to say because you never know who got a sniff of a draft (during practice),” Gase said. “It’s definitely hard. If we were a team this size without any owner points, it probably would be not good. But with having owner points, we still should be OK. It makes it much, much harder. I was just thinking, sitting on pit road (waiting on) making single car runs, all the top teams went out in a pack. I was like, ‘that’s all $5 million-plus teams.’ It definitely makes it tough.
“It’s really hard to say. We’ll just have to see where we end up.”
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