AVONDALE, Ariz. — Just as he is every weekend at the race track, Blake Koch was all smiles following Saturday night’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Int’l Raceway, the penultimate race of the NASCAR XFINITY Series season and the last elimination race before the championship finale next weekend.
Unfortunately, his smile was tinged with disappointment, after the likable underdog dropped from fourth on the Chase Grid at the start of the day to four points below the cutoff line by the end of the night.
Koch qualified a surprising fourth and ran among the top 10 all night long, but was involved in a crash with 41 laps to go on the frontstretch that saw him make contact with fellow Chaser Darrell Wallace Jr., sparking a multi-car crash that involved Garrett Smithley, Corey LaJoie and Alex Labbe as well in the aftermath.
The incident forced NASCAR officials to throw a 10 minute, 34 second red flag for cleanup.
While Koch escaped the crash without serious damage, he was unable to claw his way back forward in the final laps, only able to watch as points rival Justin Allgaier came home fourth to send Koch’s first-year Kaulig Racing team packing at the conclusion of the Round of 8.
“I want to apologize to Bubba Wallace, first off … I didn’t know he was there when I was trying to cross over the 22 (Brad Keselowski) and I hit him. He was having a really good race; he had a rough week with his grandmother passing away, so I’m really sorry to him. I try to race everybody clean, because that’s just how I race. The deal there was completely unintentional.”
“We did the best we could all night, though. This was probably our best race of the year. That’s what we came here needing to do and we did that. What happened tonight, happened, and we ended up where we ended up, but I’m proud of the effort that we put in all season. This has been an amazing run.”
Koch said after the first elimination race at Charlotte that his team was “playing with house money” because few people had given them a chance to make the Chase and even fewer expected them to survive past the first round, but was simply happy to have had a chance to compete in the inaugural year of the elimination playoffs.
“I’m just extremely thankful to my whole team and everybody at LeafFilter Gutter Protection for believing in me, as well as Matt Kaulig for starting this race team. Just to be in this situation has been such a blessing and an unreal feeling.”
“I had nothing to lose tonight. It was probably the first race in my life that I just went out and went after it, not really caring what happened. I was super-aggressive and had the best restarts I’ve ever had … raced the best I ever have. It was just great to come here and look in the mirror tonight and know that I gave it my all. I didn’t leave anything on the table.”
Knowing that, it might be far less of a surprise to see him have a shot to contend again during year two of the XFINITY Series Chase in 2017.
But at least for one more night, Koch’s near-miss was a reminder that the good guys can still get it done the right way, warming most every heart in the XFINITY garage as he looks towards the new season next spring.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as both the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series and the co-track announcer at Millbridge Speedway.
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