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Friday 5: Joey Gase’s bond with his mother remains strong 10 years after her death

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 mother

Joey Gase and his mother Mary Gase, who died in 2011. 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

HAMPTON, GEORGIA - MARCH 21: Joey Gase, driver of the #53 Donate Life Georgia Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 21, 2021 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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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