NEWTON - Joey Gase used to simulate races while driving an electric car in his father’s driveway. He probably pretended running in a NASCAR Series, envisioning trading paint with the top stock car drivers.
Well, play time is over. Gase will make those earlier aspirations a reality, taking the Iowa Speedway track Saturday for the NASCAR Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The 18-year-old from Cedar Rapids will drive a Jack Roush car for Go Green Racing with practice set for Friday and qualifying Saturday afternoon.
A decade after his start in go-karts, Gase will race in one of the top series of auto racing.
“I’m really excited,” Gase said. “I’m looking for a nice, clean run and stay out of trouble.”
Gase has raced against drivers who have competed on this level, including David Ragan. He said he hopes for a decent run with a chance to prove he is capable of racing at the upper levels. Gase is ready for this opportunity and anxious to gain important experience.
“I’m up for it,” said Gase, who graduated from Cedar Rapids Xavier in May and has four late model feature wins at Hawkeye Downs Speedway. “(Top 20 to 25 finish) would be great.”
Gase expects strong support for the race, especially from his family and friends, sponsors from Agrigold Seed and Benny Gordon, who will be spotting for Gase. The man behind Benny Gordon Racing has been an informal manager, helping Gase get his name out. He was a catalyst arranging the deal with Go Green Racing.
It came as a little bit of a shock at first to Gase.
“I really didn’t know what to think,” Gase said during Sports Desk interview. “We never really planned on doing the race. We were mainly thinking about doing the trucks race and instead we’re starting to do a Nationwide race, so we’re really happy and surprised, hoping to do good.”
Gase had to get certified to race at this level so he traveled to North Carolina for qualifying school. He said he spent about 35 to 40 minutes in the classroom before 90 minutes on the track with different types of race cars.
“To get certified you just have to have basically a good clean history in the past and make sure you’re not going to cause any trouble,” Gase said, “and make sure that you can handle the bigger tracks and bigger speeds.”
The .875-mile track might be the perfect place for him to debut in the highly-competitive field. Gase has run NASCAR K&N Pro Series, ARCA and USAR contests at Iowa Speedway.
“It helps a lot,” said Gase, who has described the speedway as a really fun track. “It’s a lot more comfortable.”
The race will be televised on ESPN2 and will like draw close to the 55,988 fans that attended last year when Kyle Busch won. Gase isn’t intimated by the magnitude of the event, despite racing in front of more fans than ever. Performance is at the forefront of his mind.
“It’s pretty cool,” Gase said. “I’m trying to just focus on the race.”
Butterflies are expected to flutter this weekend, but Gase isn’t sure if they will be more prevalent for qualifying or when the green flag drops for the main event.
“Maybe a little of both,” Gase said despite Go Green Racing’s automatic spot in the race field. “It’s just really nice that I just have to put some nice laps for qualifying, because I know I’m going to be in the race for sure by provisional.”
Michael Annett will also represent Iowa at Newton. Annett, a Des Moines native, is 10th in the Nationwide points standings.
Gase has taken a similar path as Cedar Rapids Jefferson graduate Landon Cassill, the 22-year-old who currently runs NASCAR Sprint Cup for Phoenix Racing and was the 2008 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year. The two are friends and Cassill’s example provides a boost of confidence to Gase.“I haven’t been able to talk with him,” Gase said. “It’s nice to know it has been done.”