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XFINITY

BLAKE KOCH: “We Needed This Momentum”

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Blake Koch has flown under the radar in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this season.

Despite not producing staggering statistics, performances similar to his 11th-place run in Saturday’s Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200 have placed the Kaulig Racing team in a comfortable position as the Playoffs approach.

“Throughout this year, we’ve had a lot of speed,” Koch told POPULAR SPEED. “We’ve had some great accomplishments – two stage wins, a pole.”

However, the No. 11 team is rebounding after a challenging stretch of races between Dover and Kentucky as they finished outside the top-20 in six consecutive events before recovering at New Hampshire.

“But we went through a phase there where we needed to turn it around,” Koch said. “Going to New Hampshire, we just felt like our season was going to turn around and it did. We left there with a solid finish, and had speed ever since.”

Kaulig Racing has steadily improved over the last month and captured an organization-best finish of seventh at Road America last weekend.

However, Koch believes Darlington is their most impressive feat so far this season.

“And we come to here, statistically my worst track and have one of the best runs at a bigger track of the year for us,” Koch said.

It comes at the perfect time with Richmond next on the schedule and the Playoffs two weeks away.

“We needed this momentum going to our best race track, Richmond,” Koch said. “We feel like we can really be very competitive next week at Richmond and then just get prepared for the Playoffs.”

He hasn’t finished outside the top-15 in the last three races at Richmond, and the field will run composite bodies next Friday night, which could further even the playing field and present one of his best opportunities of the year.

Once the post-season begins, Koch will look to replicate and better his 2016 performance.

After entering the final seven races as the underdog, Koch advanced to the second round and nearly made the Championship 4.

Few expected the first-year organization to pull off such a challenging feat, but by beating some of the series’ top contenders, it proves this team can get the job done.

They are improving at the right time and by continuing to build momentum and capture consistent finishes, it could fuel another deep Playoff run this fall. 

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Road America Shakes-Up Playoff Picture

Heading into Sunday’s Johnsonville 180, the XFINITY Series playoff field looked set heading into the final four races of the regular season.

Ross Chastain, who was 13th, sat 43 points outside the cutoff, meaning it would probably take a win for him or anybody behind him in the standings to break in. With the big name teams that contend for wins on a weekly basis were either already in the top-12 or not eligible, it seemed doubtful.

However, after a wild race in Wisconsin, Jeremy Clements shocked the racing world, coming home with the upset win and shaking up the playoff grid.

While Clements’ win isn’t what Dakoda Armstrong and Brendan Gaughan wanted to see, it’s what this series needed. Let’s face it, who cared about the bottom half of the playoff picture before Road America? With a close point battle in the Camping World Truck Series and plenty of drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that can still win and get in, there was not a lot of reason to pay attention to the cutoff in XFINITY before. That is no longer the case.

Now looking at the grid, the 10th seed sits only 26 points ahead of 13th, meaning one mistake could be all it takes to go from a chance at a championship, to no opportunity at all, which is why this format exists. None of this where the field is set weeks before the cutoff. But instead, close battles in the standings that leave us wondering who’s in and out all the way till the checkered flag at Chicagoland, which generates buzz and intrigue heading into the next three races.

Not to mention the stories to watch for with the drivers on the bubble with Blake Koch and Kaulig Racing looking to better their impressive playoff run from last year, Michael Annett trying to make the most of an opportunity with JR Motorsports, and the veteran Gaughan who wants to prove he’s still got it. There’s also Armstrong attempting to make a statement with the underdog team of JGL Racing, who has gone under the radar despite being in the playoff picture.

This series is all about advertising how “names are made here,” which is what this new shakeup captures perfectly. Four drivers that will have to put together three perfect races to prove that they belong, and that’s if another unexpected winner doesn’t come along to mix it up again.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Road Courses, Stage Racing Creating Drama Ahead of XFINITY Playoffs

When the calendar shifts to August, the NASCAR XFINITY Series begins to turn left and right.

The road to the Playoffs runs through Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, and Road America, and creates some of the most intense and exciting competition throughout the year.

While the abundance of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars at Watkins Glen took away from some chances that series regulars had to score big on the road course, Mid-Ohio delivered.

Not only did the absence of veteran racers allow series regulars to excel, but stage racing provided a new avenue to collect crucial points throughout each event.

Blake Koch earned the victory in Stage 1 at Mid-Ohio, capturing his second playoff point of 2017. Brennan Poole and Brendan Gaughan closely contested Koch for the stage win but ultimately settled for second and third respectively. 

Poole is fourth in the standings and has yet to collect a playoff point while Gaughan is in 11th with one point.

Gaughan is currently in a defensive position, protecting his post-season spot which makes every championship point matter and puts playoff points on the back burner. 

Poole is essentially locked into the final seven races and can now focus on accumulating bonus points.

The final road course event of the month at Road America will provide him that opportunity.

Other drivers looking to take advantage of this chance with Poole are Cole Custer, Matt Tifft, and Dakoda Armstrong as they seem to be in a position to compete for the championship but have yet to earn playoff points.  

The Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin venue will provide the chance to implement a different strategy through stage racing with hopes of earning those crucial points.

In the first year of the XFINITY Series Playoffs, every point mattered as eliminations came down to single digits. This makes collecting bonus points critical in the regular season, and Road America will provide one of best opportunities before Kentucky, making the event much more meaningful.

Placing all three road courses in one month and ahead of the post-season has created additional drama. Now with stage racing adding a whole new element, August has already produced captivating competition, and that should continue through Road America.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Stage Points Allow Drivers to Salvage Disappointing Finishes

Stage racing has transformed the way an event unfolds. By awarding championship and playoff points during the race, it provides added incentive to run up front and creates a safety net if a competitor faces trouble later in the event.

The format has proven extremely valuable especially during the unpredictable restrictor plate races as a crash can eliminate a competitor on any lap. Now if they are collected in a wreck, having captured points through the earlier stages lessens the blow of an early exit.

Saturday’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 again highlighted the value of stage points as drivers who performed well at the beginning of the event but didn’t finish at the front were compensated.

Other than a couple of bonus points, the 28 laps Blake Koch led before being involved in the Lap 50 crash wouldn’t have been rewarded under the previous format.

However, because of stage competition, Koch won the first stage, earned a playoff point and ten championship points despite a disappointing 38th-place finish.

Ben Kennedy had an impressive performance early at Daytona International Speedway before fading late. He finished second in Stage 1 and ninth in Stage 2, capturing an additional 11 points in the event.

While he finished 16th, he walked away with an amount of points reflecting a top-10 run. Despite not competing for the championship, his day attested to the impact of stage points.

Koch and Kennedy aren’t the only drivers who have benefited from early race success before experiencing trouble this year.

In the season opener at Daytona, Elliott Sadler won the first two stages before crashing and finishing 24th but still walked away with the third highest point total.

Sadler’s JR Motorsports teammates experienced similar fortunes in the following races as William Byron finished seventh at Atlanta and earned the most driver points while Justin Allgaier collected the highest points total at Las Vegas but finished fourth.

Similar situations have played out in nearly every event so far in 2017, showcasing the importance of stage points.

Stage racing has made it possible for a driver other than the race winner to earn the most points. While first-place would ideally secure the largest point total, now a driver who performs well throughout the day is appropriately recognized.

Taking home the trophy remains the most appealing incentive to run well in NASCAR, but stage racing has made a driver’s overall performance matter more now than ever before.

The extra points won’t ultimately make up for missing out on the opportunity for victory but now defeat doesn’t sting as badly.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

XFINITY SERIES: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here’s a peek at Texas through Charlotte.

Cup Driver Domination

While there were five winners from five different teams in the first two months of XFINITY Series competition, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took over victory lane through April and May.

Joe Gibbs Racing went two in a row with Erik Jones winning Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway to bring their title win total up to three. Kyle Larson snagged a second win for Chip Ganassi Racing at Richmond, with Aric Almirola giving Biagi-DenBeste Racing a victory at Talladega. Lastly, Ryan Blaney scored the win this past weekend at Charlotte for Team Penske’s second of 2017.

Although Cup Series drivers swept the past two months, the series regulars were close to succeeding with a pair of runner-ups.

As we near the Chase, there will be more XFINITY competitors scoring victories with the upcoming stand-alone events, including Iowa Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

JRM Remains at the Top

10 events completed this season, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much as JR Motorsports still take up the top three positions as they have since the third race of 2017.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, currently six points ahead of Justin Allgaier. William Byron rounds out the squad, having fallen 57-markers behind Sadler.

Their strength shows in the numbers, with Allgaier posting the best average finish through April and May at 9.8 on the heels of two runner-ups, while Sadler posted the second highest at 11.6. Sadler has performed better, though, as removing the wreck at Charlotte bring his average down to 5.75.

JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway with Michael Annett currently ninth in points. While he posted, three top-10’s in the past five events, a wreck at Charlotte Motor Speedway hurt progress in moving forward.

Terrific Tifft

If you are looking for someone to watch, keep an eye on Matt Tifft as he was the third-highest performer over the past three races, boasting an average of 14.2 with a season-best finish of sixth at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is running the complete schedule for the first time, after making 11 starts over the past two years with five top-10’s. With steady improvement each week, he believes he could be the next driver to score his first career victory.

“There’s so much that goes into competing for wins in this series, and I feel like we’re getting close to being able to do that,” he told Popular Speed last month. “You have to build from somewhere, and I felt that Texas was great for us to build from a solid run. You have to have that as a team to build everybody’s confidence up and to be able to keep on rolling through the next stretch here. As you know, we have a couple of weeks here and then a few weeks off, but after that, there are 20 something weeks in a row, and you better be hitting it by then.”

Chase Bubble Watch

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series Chase, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in.

Sitting 10th in points, Blake Koch only has scored one top-10 this year, but having 62 points over J.J Yeley in 13th should have him and those ahead confident in their chances. With that said, the current outlook includes Sadler, Bryon, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Tifft, Annett and Koch joining the pair of aforementioned winners.

Cole Custer has scored three top-10’s this year, but wrecks at Bristol and Talladega have slipped him back to 11th in the standings, currently 54 points ahead of Yeley.

Dakoda Armstrong has yet to score a top-10 this season and only has a 36-marker gap to keep the final qualified spot.

The shock of the bubble watch is Richard Childress Racing teammates Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan sitting 15th and 16th. With at least 37 points to make up a piece, they will need to start performing or find victory lane during the summer to keep their hopes alive.

No Consistency for Custer

Although Custer’s name was mentioned in the bubble watch, he is a driver who should qualify for the Chase – if he performs to expectations.

With 10 races in the books for 2017, he has posted three top-10’s as noted, including a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
Each weekend, he places the No. 00 Ford in the top-10 with intentions of a solid finish. However, wrecks and pit penalties have resulted in five finishes outside of the top-20 this season.

Custer acknowledged their struggles, saying they needed to get better.

“We had pretty solid cars the last couple weeks, and even in Atlanta we had a good car just haven’t gotten the finishes,” he said in April. “We haven’t done that. It was me making mistakes and just having random things happen. If we can keep these solid runs going, we will work our way back up there in the points. I feel like we can do this. We have had fast cars the last couple of weeks. We will just keep plugging away at it.”

Being a new team in the series, Stewart-Haas Racing has shown they can run up front on a weekly basis. But if consistency doesn’t start happening, they could fall outside of the Chase cut-off.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Blake Koch Looks to Double-Down on Short Track Success

After scoring his first top-10 of 2017 in Bristol, Blake Koch enters this weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway with confidence. 

Last fall, the driver of the No. 11 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet qualified fifth en route to a 15th-place finish.  The 2016 Spring event he scored an eight-place finish, underscoring his affinity for grassroots style racing.

“I love short tracks, so any track that is under a mile and a half, I feel like I have a better handle on for some reason,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “But we’re working towards getting our mile and a half program better also. But like I said, it’s Chris’ home track as he’s from Virgina. I love Richmond as it’s so much fun to drive. We feel like we hit on a good package there last year, and our goal going into it – I would love to get a pole. I’ve never had a pole so I’d love to get a pole, but also to qualify for that XFINITY Dash for Cash, and see if we can take home the extra cash.”

The ToyotaCare 250 will mark the second straight Dash 4 Cash event for the XFINITY Series, which rewards the highest qualified-finisher a $100,000 bonus at the race’s end. Koch feels not having the veteran Cup guys in the field is the “coolest part” of this year’s format.

“Also, it gives you a shot at some added exposure of winning the Dash for Cash and some added cash, and it’s a great thing for our series sponsor XFINITY,” he said. “It’s just a fun weekend when we have those Dash for Cash races.” 

The Florida native now sits seventh in points after seven races this season. 

“I believe we’re pretty far ahead of where we were last year as a team, as a driver,” he said. “Our performance has been better. Sometimes it gets hidden because of how much harder the competition is this year; some of the race tracks you have a ton of Cup guys, and there are new teams that are very competitive that came in this year. But if we would’ve taken Atlanta out where we crashed on Lap 1 and finished 10th, we would be top-five in points right now. We feel like we’ve been performing well and getting better each week.”

Beginning last September, the Kaulig Racing team zeroed-in on a setup that worked well for Koch. The last two months of the season yielded good, consistent performances.

“I feel like there was a turning point last year right around the second Richmond and Chicago, where we felt like we jumped up to a new level,” he said. “We’re still at that level, and we’re getting better at that level every single week now. You know, last year it took three-quarters of the year for me to be racing some of the guys that I’m already racing this early this year.”

Koch believes with time, the sophomore team will continue to get stronger. 

“We just started our race team last year, so we’re competing against people that have been around for decades, so it’s going to take time,” he said. “We have a great sponsor – Leaf Filter Gutter Protection, and a great team owner in Matt Kaulig who’s committed to us, and to the XFINITY Series. All we have to do is focus on getting better as a team, and that’s just going to take some time.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Dillon, Koch Run Into Early Trouble at Atlanta

It didn’t take long for the action to start on Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

On Lap 2 of the Rinnai 250, Ty Dillon’s No. 3 wiggled on entry into Turn 1, spun, and slid onto the apron.

It looked like he had the car saved without damage but Blake Koch, who was trying to avoid the sideways No. 3, dove to the apron hit the left side of the Richard Childress Racing car head on.

Dillon was able to continue and finished the race on the lead lap in 17th, but Koch’s car sustained too much damage and finished dead-last 40th.

“It sucks to be out at the beginning of the race,” Koch told Fox Sports. “On entry there, I saw the 3 start to gather it up and thought maybe he’d stay up there, and I could sneak down on the bottom, and I was on the apron, and he started to come down — and I couldn’t sneak by and miss him.”

It marks the second consecutive rough week for Koch as he sustained heavy damage in one of the big wrecks at Daytona, requiring the team to make substantial repairs en route to a 15th-place result.

Now with a 40th-place finish at Atlanta, he drops from eighth to 19th in the series standings.

You can see a replay of the incident here.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

“They Said What?” Memorable Quotes – XFINITY Series

Sometimes when you stick a microphone in front of a driver’s face – especially when they’re mad, you have no clue what they may say and a couple of times you’ll hear something that surprises you or gives you a bit of a perspective.

Throughout the NASCAR XFINITY Series season, I had the opportunity to speak to a bunch of different competitors, whether for features or following events. During those interviews, there were some quotes that stood out. So it seems only fitting we take a glance back through the year at what was said.

 

“I think it’s a rule change that somebody felt needed to be done – fans, media, whoever doesn’t like that Kyle Busch wins so much. So they’ve made a rule to protect against Kyle Busch. I don’t think we have a Cup driver problem. I think we have a problem with one driver and people don’t like it. I want to race against him each week so I don’t care. I want to race against him and try to beat him every week, so I can get better. So for me, it’s a rule they’ve made, it’s in place and it’s done. We’ll fight through it; we’ll keep racing, and hopefully it results in some more wins for us. But in the end, I still wish they were racing against us.”

Brendan Gaughan‘s opinion on the new “Competition Guidelines” for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars in the XFINITY & Camping World Truck Series.

 

“Matt (Kaulig) is such a loyal guy, and has stuck with me since the first time he sponsored me three seasons ago. It’s tough to succeed in this sport as it takes time, but that’s what it takes. You just need to find someone who will stick with you through the good and bad, and have your back. Matt has my back and believes in me, as well as everybody at Leaf Filter Gutter Protection, and my team at Kaulig Racing. Chris Rice and I have a good relationship, and that’s what it takes – good relationships to make it.”

Blake Koch on his relationship, partnership with Kaulig Racing owner Matt Kaulig

 

“It’s not the ideal situation, but it’s what we’re dealt with because we don’t have a $1 million plus to drive for them, so we have to do it ourselves. I’m still fortunate to be able to it, though. It’s just tough. We don’t have the money, engineering, all the people that they have. It can be hard and impossible to outrun them in certain places, so it’s frustrating, but at the end of the day, it’s still gratifying when you can get close to them and on some days, run right there with them and sometimes beat some of them. That keeps you going for sure.”

Jeremy Clements on driving for a small team against some of the big teams in the series, like Joe Gibbs Racing and JR Motorsports.

 

“It’s tough. We don’t have as much funding as the other teams but are hopeful that will change. We have maybe five guys at the shop, and those guys need to be at the track, so it’s hard to maintain the cars. We may be running the same car week after week, where other guys have new cars as they have them ready.”

Joey Gase on driving for a small team against some of the big teams in the series.

 

“I’d really like to. I’m not hiding the fact that I’m good on road courses in the car, but I could be good on an oval. I believe that I like the feel of the car and I think it suits my driving style.”

Alex Tagliani on wanting to eventually run an oval event in one of NASCAR’s top-three divisions. 

 

“I’m driving racecars for a living and it’s pretty amazing to get to do what I love to do. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a great race team and great partners like Lilly Diabetes and American Diabetes Association. I’m just trying to enjoy myself and enjoy the work process and trying to get better each week and spend time at the shop with the guys, and just try to have a lot of fun. Like I said, appreciate the whole process a little more rather than focusing just on the end goal.”

Ryan Reed 

 

“I have to say that it’s a dream come true. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am and to accomplish the goals that I have accomplished. It’s great to have the opportunity to move up the ladder and give myself a shot to run in the XFINITY Series.”

Ryan Preece on his opportunity last year to drive for JD Motorsports full-time.

 

“I always set my expectations a little higher for myself than others would. I sometimes leave the track disappointed more than others, but in a good way because I’m trying to push myself harder. The main thing right now is completing all the laps and not getting caught up in any wrecks so we can complete all the laps.”

Brandon Gdovic on his goals and expectations for the season. 

 

“It’s kind of been the rebuilding year. Everybody is starting to realize that Corey LaJoie can drive again.”

Corey LaJoie’s thoughts after pulling together a string of solid finishes this year, compared to the lack of success in a previous XFINITY attempt with Richard Petty Motorsports.

 

“Our car chief (Brent Wentz) this week said it the best – the races and championships aren’t won at the track, they’re won during the week with the preparation that we do in the shop. I definitely believe in that as that’s the approach that we had on the 2 car, so that takes a lot of pressure off on the weekend if you’ve done your work during the week and feel good with where you’re at the shop.”

Brian Wilson on whether there’s pressure on him to win as the crew chief for the Team Penske’s No. 22 entry. 

 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

NASCAR XFINITY Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Blake Koch

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With the Chase format being introduced to the XFINITY Series, it was expected the change would give the smaller teams an opportunity at greatness. That was the case for Blake Koch, who with a new team came very close to battling for a championship in Homestead. He was the surprise in 2016 and will look to go one step further in 2017.

Car No.:  11

Crew Chief: Chris Rice

Team:  Kaulig Racing

Wins: 0

Top-Fives: 0

Top-10s: 5

Points Finish: 7th

2016 Quick Summary: The season started out strong for Koch and the newly formed, Kaulig Racing, as they went into Daytona and capitalized with a top-10 finish in the season’s first race.

After a successful outing to begin the year, you could’ve said the team went under the radar.

Despite his stats not being as flashy as others, Koch remained quietly consistent. From Atlanta to the regular season finale, he and his team captured 18-top 20’s. While it may not seem like much, the constant finishes inside the top half of the field would put him a great position to make the Chase.

As the Chase began, Koch continued to be consistent. In the Round Of 12, he captured three finishes inside the top-15, which would be enough to advance him to the Round Of 8 as others struggled.

[tps_footer]In the next round, he proved to be a serious contender by capturing a ninth-place finish in Kansas. After another top-15 in Texas, Koch headed into Phoenix was right in the mix of the championship picture. Despite having one of the best races of his season and tying his season-best finish (eighth), he came up just short of making the Championship Four[/tps_footer].

Koch would end the season with a 20th place finish at Homestead.

2016 Highlight(s): Going from ‘underdog’ to championship contender in the Chase. When Koch made NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, many wrote him off, and he may not have gotten the attention he and his team deserved. But when it was said and done, everybody was taking not of him, and he proved to be a serious contender.

2016 Lowlight(s): Every Cinderella story has a point where the clock strikes midnight; unfortunately for Koch that came at Phoenix, where despite his best efforts he came up just short of the Championship 4.

2017 Outlook: Koch will be back again with Kaulig Racing, where in year two together they will look to go they look to go one step further than they did in 2016 and be in the championship hunt come Homestead.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

THREE TAKEAWAYS: GALAXY 200 at PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY

The Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway was a fitting precursor to next week’s season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway.

While Kyle Busch won the event, the final eight battled for their shot at the playoffs. From the beginning of the race, each proved to be competitive – many driving against each other in the top-10. However, a few were met with heartbreak, and their championship hopes faded away. Nevertheless, four drivers have advanced and will have the opportunity to race for the title next week at Homestead.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday night.

Allgaier Fights Back

Justin Allgaier came into Saturday night’s event one point outside of the Final Four cutoff. With many strong competitors in the running, it would be a formidable challenge to advance into Homestead. When the green flag waved, the driver proved his resilience and slowly climbed the leaderboard. At one point, he claimed second, behind Busch.

In the end, the driver was the highest placing Chase competitor – fourth. He joins Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez, and Erik Jones as the Final Four to fight for the title at Homestead.

Wallace Jr’s Emotional Night

Darrell Wallace Jr. already had a tough week losing his grandmother unexpectedly. Racing with a heavy heart, the driver battled for the fourth and final Chase seat. However, his night was cut short when Blake Koch unknowingly drove down in front of Wallace, causing him to hit the wall. The damage resulted in a DNF for the No. 6 team, and the end of their 2016 title hopes.

The Mobile, AL native was emotional after the race but kept the night in perspective.

“My grandmother was giving me the ride of my life,” he told NBCSN. “It was the most fun I’ve had all year. Just circumstances took us out… going to Homestead and let her ride again.”

Out But Not Down

The playoff journey of Blake Koch and Kaulig Racing has been a popular story in the series, but Saturday night it met its conclusion. Facing off against his Chase competitors, the driver began in the fourth position, but was shuffled back and finished eighth – tying his best career finish in the series.

“We did the best we could all night,” Koch told NBCSN. “It was probably our best night of the year.” While the driver’s title run has come to an end, he and his team still have plenty to smile about. The 2016 season has been their most competitive year to date, which leaves promise for the future.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.