By David Morgan, NASCAR Writer
As the NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for race No. 3 on the season, all eyes are on the typical powerhouse teams in the series (JR Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, etc.), but in the background, one of the smaller teams in the series is lurking after notching career best finishes in the first two races of the season.
Who is this team that is off to their best start? That would be the new Kaulig Racing team, with Blake Koch piloting the No. 11 Leaf Filter Chevrolet Camaro.
Koch has raced in the NASCAR Xfinity Series since 2009, but his start to the 2016 season has given him his best start to a season at any point in his career.
In the season opener at Daytona, Koch was able to qualify in ninth, marking his second career start inside the top-10. Though Koch fell to 28th at one point in the race, due to the strategy of backing out of the pack and playing it safe, he was able to stay within striking distance of the leaders despite being a lap down.
As the laps counted down in the race, Koch was able to get his lap back and made his way to ninth by the time of the final restart with 13 laps remaining. Over the final 13 laps, Koch held steady in ninth place to bring home his career best finish in 149 career starts.
“It was a career-best day for me with a top-10 finish and my second time starting within the top 10. I finally was able to get a top-10 though. We all come to Daytona to win this thing, so it’s bitter sweet. Everyone wants to win. I’m very thankful for ninth though, and I’m very thankful to be leaving here with a clean race car that the guys at the shop can get ready for Talladega. I can’t thank everyone on this team and at LeafFilter Gutter Protection™ enough,” said Koch.
Looking to back up his Daytona finish last Saturday at Atlanta, Koch had his work cut out for him throughout the day. The 30-year old Florida native started 13th on the day, but a flat tire at lap 94 forced Koch to pit road under green, dropping him to 21st, two laps down.
Koch was able to make up one of his laps and was in contention to get the other back as he made his way to 12th in the running order. While it looked like Koch was in position to pick up his second top-15 finish in a row, it was not to be as Koch suffered another flat tire with two laps to go, dropping him back to 20th, two laps down. Despite the late race adversity, his 20th place run still marks his best career finish at Atlanta.
“The right front tire started coming apart with two laps to go in the race. Only a couple guys got by me at that point, but then I had no choice but to come down pit road before it damaged the car. It was just wrong place wrong time I guess. We were running in the top-15 almost all day, which is where we wanted to be. We have Las Vegas next week though, and we’ll be better.”
As the Xfinity Series heads west to Las Vegas this weekend, Koch finds himself eighth in points and heads to one of his better tracks on the circuit. In four starts, Koch has notched two top-20 finishes at the track for an average finish of 23.5. This weekend’s race at Las Vegas will also mark a monumental point in Koch’s career as he will be making his 150th career start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“Atlanta had no grip and had worn really, really well, where Las Vegas Motor Speedway has a ton of grip and you’re going even faster. Track-wise, Vegas is one of my favorite tracks we go to. I don’t like sliding around a lot and I definitely like a lot of grip at a track. The only problem with a lot of grip is when the grip goes away, everything goes down in a hurry. You have to be on your toes a little more in Vegas because of that.”
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