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Gase rolling through important off-season

Cedar Rapids native gained national attention with Community Award, using it to help race team

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Joey Gase has had one heck of an off-season.

No, there were no big contracts or endorsement deals. But there were headlines. And awards. And significant conversations with sponsors, who will bring dollars to his fledging car owner and race team at Jimmy Means Racing.

Gase has had to go through personal hell to get to this point, but as he’s told the world so many times, that personal hell has been used to try and make the real world a better place.

NASCAR, Comcast and Xfinity saw the work he’s done through the Iowa Donor Network and Donate Life, and recognized him for it as the first Comcast Community Champion award winner in November — and with it came a $60,000 prize. He was thrust in front of NASCAR’s elite, and the whole sport once again got to see what the Cedar Rapids native was made of.

It wasn’t just about hearing his story again. Gase donated all $60,000 of that prize money to the Iowa Donor Network — without really a second thought. He’ll be back with Means in the No. 52 for the Xfinity Series season again in 2016, but with loads more respect.

“Right when I heard about it I knew who I wanted to give it to right away,” Gase said. “We sent it to them and they’re going to be able to put it to great use and bring more awareness to donation.

“Being able to talk in front of such a big part of the NASCAR community at the banquet was really crazy. To have Mike Helton and all those guys there listening — and I didn’t even know they were announcing the award at the Cup Series banquet. I didn’t even know about that until people started tweeting at me about it. That was really cool to see that as well.”

His hometown fans thought so, too.

Gase has persevered to this point, both personally and professionally. His career-best finish of fifth at Talladega Superspeedway last spring got him attention for his on-track results, which have been an uphill battle with an underfunded team that’s been around for decades.

He finished 21st in driver points with an average finish of 27.5, including that fifth place at Talladega as his only top five and top 10, and an average start position of 32.9. Those numbers show improvement over 2014, though, when Gase had an average start of 34.5, an average finish of 29.4 and was only running at the finish in 22 of 33 races (27 in 2015).

It’s baby steps, but while he works on putting more names on the recipient list for organ donation — thereby reducing the 120,000-person donation waitlist — he can work to find sponsors that will help fund a team he’s trying to help improve.

“It helps knowing that everything we’re doing for the donation side has an effect. It is difficult for sure,” Gase said. “Each year we’ve been getting better and have made some strides. You want to get there right away, but sometimes it just doesn’t work like that. We’re an underfunded team and each year we’ve been getting more funds. That’s just what we need, is more funding. Hopefully next year we’ll have some of that.”

His existing sponsors have been over the moon about the award and its attention, Gase said.

More attention can only help, and help means those dollars. It’s already paid off in the way of Iowa Donor Network, which is working with Gase right now to secure a possible Camping World Truck Series ride at Iowa Speedway for the June 18 and 19 CWTS/NXS doubleheader.

He has irons in the fire on some Cup Series races, too, but those are still to be determined. He’s grateful to everyone for what the award has brought, but now it’s on to 2016 and finding a way to grow even more.

“The cool thing is now Iowa Donor Network is actually going to go out of their boundaries a little bit outside the state of Iowa and team up with us more for some other states that surround Iowa and stuff like that. It’s going to be really cool and help everybody,” Gase said. “The sponsors we already had obviously loved it, and everything we’re doing — especially the Donate Life sponsorship — shows that it’s working.

“We’ll be doing all the same stuff (Xfinity-wise), and hopefully still improving like we have been every year. Hopefully we’ll get top-20 points again. I’d really like to start finishing in the top 20 every week, on a consistent basis.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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