Auto racing

Joey Gase back in Cup car following best pair of weekends in his career

Cedar Rapids native got second top-10 of season at Daytona, now set to run second of 3 races this season with BK Racing at Kentucky

Cedar Rapids native and NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Joey Gase #52 climbs into his car for qualifying at the NASCAR XFINITY Series American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway in Newton on Saturday, June 24, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette),
Cedar Rapids native and NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Joey Gase #52 climbs into his car for qualifying at the NASCAR XFINITY Series American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway in Newton on Saturday, June 24, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette),
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If someone sees Cedar Rapids native and NASCAR driver Joey Gase this week, and he has an extra little pep in his step, it should be pretty obvious as to why.

The 24-year-old backed up an 18th-place finish in the Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway two weekends ago — his career best at his home NASCAR track — with a 10th-place finish on Saturday at Daytona. On the heels of the best two-week stretch of his career, Gase now heads to Kentucky Speedway, where he’ll be back in the No. 23 Toyota for BK Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Oh, and he also picked up a new sponsor in ProMaster that will help out for his Xfinity effort at Kentucky. In a business that can beat a guy down sometimes, Gase has rightfully enjoyed the last few weeks.

“It definitely has been (a thrill),” Gase said. “Last weekend played out like we want at superspeedways. … We’ll take a top-10 finish, that’s for sure. It’s still one of those ‘Who knows what could’ve happened,’ (with the final caution) but we’re not going to complain about it by any means.

“It’s a crapshoot, but luckily we’ve been able to figure it out these last couple races.”

Gase’s run Saturday at Daytona was his second top-10 and fifth top-20 finish of the season, finishing seventh at Daytona in February, 16th at Talladega, 20th at Richmond, 18th at Iowa and 10th at Daytona on Saturday. Both of those numbers are career highs. What’s more, Gase never had more than one top-20 finish in any single season before this year, and had five total top-20 finishes in his career before this season.

His average finish this year of 24.3 also is a career-high, and he sits tied for 20th in driver points with Tyler Reddick, 11 points behind Spencer Gallagher in 19th.

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That two of those finishes came at restrictor plate tracks is indicative of the long-held notion throughout the sport that those races provide a chance for any team to get good finishes because of the equalizing effect of the draft.

While it certainly is a point of pride for Gase that his Jimmy Means Racing team can run with and beat some of the others — who spend countless hours at the wind tunnel — it also shows he’s improved as a driver in the draft and that his fellow racers have more trust in him.

“We have the oldest car out there, like we have for many superspeedway races, because this chassis was actually built in 2007, and we’re still making her go,” Gase said. “It’s just been learning how the draft works and learning how to force people to work with you. Our car drafts good, but we can’t make the power moves the top teams can.

“I had to learn how to not be impatient and stay in line where I know my car can keep its momentum up, and where people will have to go with me. Guys on top teams know now they can push me and I can handle that.”

This weekend will be an entirely different animal than Daytona, though. If there’s any tempering to the confidence boost of the last two weeks, it’s the uncertainty of a reworked racing surface and his first trip in a Cup car to Kentucky.

Gase said he’ll test on iRacing this week as much as he can, but that only goes so far. He’s tried to stay in touch with the BK Racing guys by stopping by their hauler each week, but getting back in the groove of working with a group he hasn’t been around since February will take time as well.

And on top of the on-track stuff, Gase will be at sponsor appearances throughout the weekend, thanks to Best Home Furnishings being headquartered 90 minutes from Kentucky Speedway.

“No one really knows what to expect (at Kentucky); there hasn’t even been a test there since it was repaved, so it’s going to be different for everybody — which is a good thing,” Gase said. “I love Kentucky. It’s my favorite mile-and-a-half we go to.

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“We’re going to be entertaining a lot of people and having a lot of people cheering us on there, which is cool.”

STAT OF THE WEEK

In a new weekly feature for the Inside Track by Jeremiah Davis, here’s Stat of the Week. IMCA Executive Secretary Ryan Clark has spent decades announcing and working in various capacities at Independence Motor Speedway and Benton County Speedway in Vinton, and has complete weekly racing statistics for both venues.

Each week, he’ll share a stat — both obscure and relevant to a recent event — here and on The Inside Track Podcast.

This week’s stat:

Damon Murty picked up his third straight weekly win in IMCA Stock Car at Benton County Speedway at Sunday’s Hogan Memorial.

Although his 87 IMCA Stock Car wins are the most in Benton County Speedway history, Murty has never won four straight features in Vinton. He will have the chance Sunday night to become the 16th driver to win four straight. Those who have done it include Jack Mitchell and Kevin Pittman (Modified); Justin Temeyer and Dan Trimble (Stock Car); Jerry Luloff and Scott Pippert (Hobby Stock); Danny Dvorak and Tony Olson (SportMod); Don Erger (Micro Mod); Nathan Chandler and Bill Whalen Jr. (Sport Compact): Jerry Dedrick and Vern Jackson (Pro Stock); Dave Venenga (Sportsman); and Scott Yerkes (Bomber/Figure 8).

Oddly enough, six divisions listed have two drivers. No division has had three drivers with four-race winning streaks. That would be another record if Murty wins Sunday night.

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

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