Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Top-3 Surprises after Auto Club Speedway (#nascar)

by Jens Martin,

#11 Leaffilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, Blake Koch
Kaulig Racing (Xfinity Series) +

Blake Koch, age 30, did his first start in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in 2008. The following year, Blake raced full-time in K&N Series together with a few starts in the Xfinity Series.

After getting enough experience, Blake started to race full-time for MacDonald Motorsports in 2011 (Xfinity Series). Blake ended up in position 18 in the overall standings that season.

After driving for various underfunded teams in 2012-2014, Blake manage to start all 33 races in 2015 for TriStar Motorsports and the statistics are telling us as a solid season for car #8 – average start 24.5 and average finish 24.5. Pretty unusual with exactly same start/finish statistics.

In 2016 season, Blake was hired full-time for the new and interesting Xfinity Series team – Kaulig Racing. It is the sponsor, Leaffilter Gutter Protection’s owner Matt Kaulig who has formed this new race team. Kaulig Racing has technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Crew chief is Chris Rice, who has long experience in NASCAR racing.

Blake has started 152 times in the Xfinity Series (2009-2016) and including this season, he has an average start of 27.4 and average finish of 28.5. This season start with Kaulig Racing, Blake earned his first career top-10 finish at Daytona. With an average finish of 16.6 in five races, Blake Koch is finally on the right track. I think there could be more top-10 finishes for this new race team.

#44 Albertsons Co./White Tail Ford, Brian Scott
Richard Petty Motorsports (Sprint Cup Series) + 

Brian Scott, age 28, is racing his first full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM). As so many other drivers, Brian began his career in the ARCA Racing Series (part-time) together with part-time racing in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (CWTS) in 2007.

After driving two full seasons in CWTS, Brian moved up a to drive in NASCAR Xfinity Series full-time in 2010 (Braun Motorsports). Moving over to race for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in 2011-2012, his results, in the Xfinity Series, improved step by step with two top-5 and eleven top-10 (2012).

In 2013, Brian switched to Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and stayed there for three full seasons with good results. Brian had never got that win (yet), but his overall ranking of 8 (2011), 9 (2012), 7 (2013), 4 (2014) and 8 (2015) shows us a consistent driver – if given the right car.

Brian’s first race in Sprint Cup was at Charlotte 2013 for RCR, driving the #33 car. Brian ended up in position 27 that day. Brian started ten races for RCR last season in Sprint Cup. This season, Brian got a full-time seat in Richard Petty Motorsports #44 Ford. Brian’s first four races finishes was what we could expect from the #44 team (24, 31, 27, 27) but the last race at Auto Club Speedway was a breakthrough for Brian and his team.

Crew chief Chris Heroy was calling the right shots all day long and Brian’s driving, at the hard beaten track, was impressing. I think this finish will boost team #44 and perhaps we will see a top-10 finish as well this season.

#16 Ford Ecoboost Ford, Greg Biffle
Rousch Fenway Racing (Sprint Cup Series) – 

If I haven’t picked Kasey Kahne last week, he would easily have made it for this week. A few drivers are dangerously close to make it to the negative list week after week. After the Auto Club 400 race, I had to pick the #16 car. Greg Biffle, age 46, is a veteran driver who started to race as a Sprint Cup full-time driver in 2003.

Driving for Jack Rousch in his entirely career, Greg have been successful in the past. Up to now he has raced 479 times (Sprint Cup) and earned 19 wins, 91 top-5, 172 top-10 and 12 poles. His careers best overall ranking was in 2005 with a runner-up position.

Greg also raced in the Xfinity Series 1996-2010 (Champion in 2002) and Camping World Truck Series 1998-2004 (Champion 2000). But the time for success seems to be in the past for Greg Biffle.

The last win came in 2013 (Michigan) and the results have declined the recent years. Last season, there were only three top-5 and four top-10 finishes with an average finish of 20.0. This is the worst avg. finish in Greg’s career as a full-time driver.

This season, Greg’s long time crew chief Matt Puccia was replaced with Brian Pattie, but so for nothing has happened. The #16 car is still hanging out in the back of the field and sometimes I even wonder if the #16 is on the track or not. With five races complete so far, Greg has his best finish at Atlanta (P13) and at Auto Club Speedway his engine failed and he finished in position 37. Greg’s average finish after five races is 25.0.

The sun doesn’t seem to shine on the #16 team anymore. Right now, Greg Biffle’s overall ranking is 27. Last season he ended up in position 20. I think this may be Greg’s last season in Sprint Cup Series.

Photo Credit: 3 x Headshots Photos from NASCAR Media

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