Entering the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase, not many gave underdog Blake Koch and his first-year Kaulig Racing team much of a chance to make any noise in the playoffs, but the team made a strong run to Phoenix and came up just short of being able to make it into the Championship Four at Homestead.
With three top-10 finishes in the first 26 races of the season, Koch earned his way into the Xfinity Series Chase, but many had the driver of the No. 11 Chevrolet as one of the first two out after the first round. However, Koch and his team buckled down and squeaked through the first round with finishes of 11th, 14th, and 12th. In the second round, their performance picked up with finishes of ninth and 14th in the first two races of the Round of 8 to hold onto a one point advantage heading into Saturday’s elimination race at Phoenix.
Koch turned in his best qualifying effort of the season to secure a fourth place starting spot for Saturday night and was very strong early in the going. But after a slow pit stop dropped him further down into the top-10 at about the midway point in the race, he was never able to recover and only was able to get back to eighth place by the time the checkered flag flew. His fifth top-10 finish of the season would have him falling just four points shy of advancing.
Aside from the slow pit stop, Koch also had a run-in with fellow Chase contender Bubba Wallace late in the race as he tried to pass Brad Keselowski as Wallace was trying to pass him, which sent Wallace hard into the inside frontstretch wall, ending Wallace’s night.
“I really want to apologize to Bubba Wallace. Totally didn’t know he was there as I was trying to cross over the 22 and I hit Bubba. He was having a good night after a rough week, so I’m sorry Bubba,” said Koch after the race.
Even after the checkered flag flew, Koch remained in a holding pattern to see if Elliott Sadler would be penalized for loose lug nuts on his car to possibly drop him out of the top-four and allow Koch to move into the top-four. Ultimately, NASCAR did not take any points from Sadler and Koch’s fate was sealed.
“We did the best we could all night. It was probably our best race of the year and that’s what we came here and needed to do. Whatever happens, happens, and we’ll see where we end up.”
Though he did not advance to the championship race, his run through the first six races of the Chase shows that even the underdog teams can make some noise among the big multi-car teams that are at the top of the mountain in the Xfinity Series.