Blake Koch Blake Koch - “Big Picture” Clinches Chase Berth
After Top-15 Finish in Chicago
- Started: 13th
- Finished: 15th
- Laps: 200/200
- Status: Running
- Driver Points: 12th
- Owner Points: 17th
Heading to Chicagoland Speedway for the final regular season race of 2016, Blake Koch had his sights set on securing one of the two remaining open spots for the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) Chase when the checkered flag flew on the Drive for Safety 300.
Starting the weekend off heading in the right direction, Koch was 19th-fastest in his No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection™ Chevrolet Camaro in a rain-shortened practice Friday morning, but quickly jumped up to tenth quickest in final practice that afternoon. Backing up his previous times, Koch went on to qualifying a track-best 13th for Saturday afternoon’s race.
Koch wasn’t taking any chances though when the green flag dropped on the 200-lap Drive for Safety 300, keeping the “big picture” in the back of his mind. Wanting to keep his nose clean, Koch maintained a position just outside the top-15 until the competition caution on lap 26.
Coming down pit road under caution, crew chief Chris Rice called for four tires, fuel and track bar adjustment to “tighten up” Koch’s Chevrolet Camaro.
Restarting 13th, Koch began running lap times comparable to the leaders, but radioed to his Kaulig Racing™ team that he was feeling a severe vibration in the shifter. Despite the vibration, Koch maintained his top-15 position while a long green flag run ensued.
Eventually hitting pit road, under green on lap 79, Koch received four tires and fuel only. However, while green-flag pit stops were still cycling through, the caution flag came out on lap 83, catching Koch one lap down to the leaders.
Because of the circumstances, Rice had Koch come down pit road again, this time under caution, for four tires and fuel. He would come back down pit road, under caution, on lap 103 for fuel only, and lap 113 for four tires and fuel.
Restarting 17th with 84 laps remaining in the Drive for Safety 300, Koch marched his way through the field, trying to set himself up for the “free pass” should a caution come out. However while a long green-flag run ensued, the leaders began to hit pit road under green. Just as Koch was about to head to pit road himself, the caution came out on lap 161, positioning him back on the lead lap.
Coming to the attention of his Kaulig Racing™ crew, Koch got four fresh tires and fuel, restarting 15th with 35 laps to go. Continuing to fight for as much ground as possible, Koch was knocking on the door of the top-10 before the final caution of the race would come out on lap 183.
Looking to make his way into the top-10 for the final 15 laps, Koch’s No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection™ Chevrolet Camaro swung to the tight side, making passing difficult. However, Koch was able to hold on and cross the finish line in 15th, a track-best finish for him at Chicagoland Speedway, and lock himself into the inaugural NXS chase.
“It’s huge to make the Chase. You have to give it up to XFINITY and NASCAR for bringing the Chase to our Series. It made this race so exciting and one of the most exciting races that I’ve been apart of in my career. But we’ve made it now. I wouldn’t be in this position though without LeafFilter™. Thanks to them, I’m having a career-best year and now fighting for a championship.”
Up Next: VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway on Sat., 24