TALLADEGA, Ala. (May 6, 2017) – Kaulig Racing driver Blake Koch earned his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) pole on Saturday for the Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway with a time of 52.188 seconds. The West Palm Beach, Fla. native was running 12th with five laps to go in Stage 2 when a multi-car incident collected the No. 11 Chevy, relegating Koch to a 31st-place finish.
“It felt so good to get my first-career pole after being so close in the past,” said Koch. “We had such a fast LeafFilter Chevy today and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t finish the race. I think we definitely leave Talladega with our heads held high. They know we were there and really turned some heads with how fast we were all weekend. I can’t thank my team enough and look forward to a hometown race at Charlotte in a few weeks.”
Koch finished first in NXS practice on Friday after posting the fastest time while drafting with a group of Richard Childress Racing (RCR) drivers. In second practice, teams made single-car qualifying runs, with Koch posting the second-fastest time. The team carried the momentum into qualifying on Saturday morning, posting the fastest time in the first round and then capturing the Coors Light Pole Award at the end of the second round of qualifying.
Koch led the field to the green flag from the inside line and settled into the second row with RCR drafting partners after the first few laps. Koch had maneuvered back up to the second position by Lap 7, when the first caution flag flew. The team did not pit under the caution and restarted the race from the outside of the front row with 14 laps remaining in Stage 1.
After the restart, Koch propelled back to the lead and led Lap 11. As the draft settled in, Koch held on to the fourth position as a wreck behind the leaders on Lap 21 brought out the caution. The field fell under a nearly 10-minute red flag before returning to green with two laps remaining in Stage 1. Koch crossed the stage checkered to finish fifth in
Stage 1, earning six stage points to be added to his race total.
Under the caution in between stages, crew chief Chris Rice brought Koch down pit road for fuel only to conserve track position. A lot of drivers elected not to pit, putting Koch 12th for the restart on Lap 32.
Koch worked the draft from the the 12th position throughout Stage 2, until a multi-car wreck in front of Koch collected the Kaulig Racing driver with just five laps remaining in Stage 2. Koch reported that the damage had broken his transmission and he was not able to re-fire the No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Camaro. After being pushed to his pit stall by a tow truck, the team determined that the damage was too severe to continue. With held still held high, Koch accepted a 31st-place finish at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Koch is scored ninth in the NXS Championship standings after Saturday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. Koch and the No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection team will be back on track Saturday, May 27th at Charlotte Motor Speedway.