DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — When Joey Gase climbed from his No. 52 Chevy, he was covered in grass and dirt and said he felt like he just ran a dirt race — but he had an ear-to-ear grin on his face.
The 23-year-old Cedar Rapids native had just survived a marathon NASCAR Xfinity Series QQQ 300 — in which the race was stopped twice by red flags for multicar wrecks and lasted just more than three hours — and collected a seventh place finish.
He dodged every big wreck but one, and in the one in which he was collected, the racing gods smiled down on Jimmy Means Racing and kept his car from sustaining major damage after spinning through the grass near Turn 3.
Gase restarted NASCAR overtime in eighth and was fourth down the backstretch on the final lap. He was happy with seventh, sure, but the first thing he said after the race?
“I think if we had people helping us there (on the final lap), we would’ve had a shot to win this damn thing,” Gase said.
Spoken like a racer.
“Our game plan worked. Our game plan was to stay in the draft, just barely, in the segments because we saw what happened in the Truck race. We stayed out of trouble doing that. We got spun once, but luckily our splitter is apparently bulletproof, along with the rest of the car,” Gase said. “I mean, for this small team? The budget we have isn’t even a quarter of what the top teams have — or probably half the guys have. To finish seventh is pretty crazy.”
The race as a whole, won by Ryan Reed, was pretty crazy, too.
Gase was referencing Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in which the field had multiple multi-truck wrecks — the highlight-reel wreck being Matt Crafton’s flip — and Saturday’s Xfinity Series race one-upped that showing.
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There were five multicar wrecks, and three of them involved 20, 12 and 16 cars, in that order. In the first wreck, at Lap 24, Gase had to weave his way through. The second, he was in that draft he talked about, well behind the action. The third, with 11 to go, saw him slide through that grass while running inside the top 10.
At that point, Gase said, you kind of have to put yourself in harm’s way.
“It’s one of those deals where you know we’re going to wreck again; you just hope you’re not in it,” Gase said. “You’re up there that far, so you can’t back out. It was a crazy race. I hope the fans enjoyed it. I don’t think they can ask for any more excitement than that, that’s for sure.”
Even as happy as Gase was with the finish, that mentality from right when he got out of the car stuck with him for several minutes after, too.
On the final restart, in overtime, Gase restarted behind Kasey Kahne in the No. 88 for JR Motorsports, and while his and Kahne’s spotter made a plan to try to cut through the middle on the restart, it was undone almost immediately. Ty Dillon ran out of fuel on the inside lane, and the top four cars broke away a bit.
Gase caught as passed for fourth off Turn 2, but that’s where his run stalled. Austin Dillon, with a big run on the outside, led a line past Gase off the final turn. He could’ve moved up to try to block, but Gase said he didn’t want to finish the race on the tow-truck hook.
“I could’ve (blocked him) but it was just hard to see what all was going on behind me,” Gase said. “My spotter said he was going to go high, and when I went up (my spotter) said he was high and I didn’t want to keep going and wreck on the last lap for no reason. If we could’ve gotten up there, we could’ve wrecked or finished better. You just never know.”
Gase’s lining up behind Kahne for that final restart illustrated a stark point the Cedar Rapids native has made over and over: there’s no overstating the vast valley in funding between the top teams and those at the level of Jimmy Means Racing.
Gase said Kahne’s team “probably had minimum — minimum — $100,000 more in sponsorship than what we had tonight.”
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The help Gase does get — in Saturday’s case, from sponsors Donate Life and Cedar Rapids-based Highway Equipment company — is the difference between him watching the QQQ 300 and racing in it. The prize money Jimmy Means will get to take home will go a long way, and the high the team will be on from it could sustain them for weeks.
Being a realist, though, Gase laughed about the biggest effect from just the second top 10 in Jimmy Means Racing’s team history — both from Gase — being the 30 points he earned. That’ll ensure a starting spot via at least a provisional for at least the early part of the season.
Good runs have a ripple effect. Gase and Jimmy Means Racing want to ride the wave.
“The morale is obviously huge, and hopefully it puts us on the map a little more, but the other biggest thing is this is going to be the hardest year, throughout the entire year, with all the competition coming in. And we have a (crap)-ton of points now,” Gase said. “It just makes it all worth it. People just keep giving us chances and being in this, it’s amazing.”
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