By Lee Montgomery
NNSracing recently spoke with Blake Koch, second in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Koch is in a tight battle with leader Timmy Hill, trailing by two points with five races remaining in the 2011 season.
Koch, who turned 26 in August, is 18th in the overall Nationwide Series drivers standings. He has a best finish of 14th at Road America this season. He drives, mainly, for MacDonald Motorsports.Q: How approach the year at the start of the season? What was the goal, and has that changed?
Blake Koch: Going into the season, I only had a five-race deal. My goal was to get in the game and figure out how to stay in the game and figure out how to get to the race track, make relationships and be a part of the sport. That's pretty tough to do in only races out of a 34-race schedule, but I was going to try.
And then, I got a 10-race deal. I was still living in Florida, and my wife and I decided to make the move up here to the Mooresville area. My 10-race deal turned into a full season. ... Rookie of the year was always on my mind, but when I got this full-season deal, it gave me a shot for this rookie title.
It's definitely been tough. We've had a lot of bad races. We haven't had that many great ones, but we've had a lot of bad ones. I'm not out there just trying to make laps, but I am out there to learn. But I'm definitely trying to gain positions and do the best I can.
How many years have you had in the bigger stock cars?
Koch: I drove 2009 in the K&N West Series and a partial schedule in 2010.
So not that much.
Koch: I have very little experience. The first time I stepped in a race car was right before my 21st birthday, and I'm 26 now. Later in the year in 2007 was my first time a race car ever.
Were you doing other things? Or did you catch the racing bug until later?
Koch: I raced motocross from when I was 9 years old until I was 18 years old. I took some time off to go to college, and after I got out of college, I was wanting to have a hobby and get into something. My stepdad bought one the spec trucks in Florida they call they FasTruck Series. He asked me if I wanted to drive it. We went out to Orlando Speedworld, and I fell in love with it. I was racing about once a month there for a while, and after a year of that, I got into a Late Model and ran about 10 races in a Late Model.
I wanted to make something of it, so I did everything I could to get on a development program, which I was successful at doing with a program to run out west in at the time was the Camping World West Series. I've been on a fast pace to run that, for sure.
Is there still a learning process? Has it gotten any easier driving the bigger, heavier cars?
Koch: I learn something every time I'm on the race track. Trying to learn the air is something that you learn every time you get on the race track. Unfortunately, I can't learn as fast as I'd like to because driving for MacDonald Motorsports, we really can't afford wrecked race cars. I have to keep it under that edge rather than right on that edge. I feel like I'm learning a lot of things up to that point, and I'm really looking to when I can get the opportunity to go out there and see what I can really do.
How hard is that? Race car drivers want to go as fast as they possibly can. How hard is that to throttle yourself back?
Koch: It's hard, but then again it's not. I think that comes with maturity as a person. You've got to understand that this is also a business, and to make it in this sport, you have to drive smart and know what situation you're in. We're in a situation where we have two race cars - three at the most at times - and we can't afford to take one out of the rotation. I don't feel like it's difficult to hold back, only because I want to go to the next weekend. I understand the situation I'm in. I'm not a driver who is trying to make a name for himself overnight in one race.
Timmy says his team pays attention to you guys during a race, given how tight the rookie battle is. Is that the same for you?
Koch: Sometimes. I would say it depends on how we unload. If we unload pretty good, and we're flirting with the top 20, I really don't pay attention to where Timmy's at. I pay more attention to how I can get to the top 15. If we unload, and we're pretty far off and we have what we have, then my new race is the 15. Then I follow where he's at on practice and qualifying and all that.
What would winning the rookie title mean to you? How big would that be for your career?
Koch: I'm not too sure how it would benefit my career, but it would be a great thing for personal satisfaction. It'd be really important to Daystar as well. It's something that we put our mind to at the beginning of our deal, and we're not going to give up until the end. We're constantly working on how to improve our program and how to make that happen. (Team owner) Randy MacDonald supports that and what it means to me. But to win that rookie of the year title would be huge.
I think it'd be that much bigger because I missed it by just a couple points in the K&N West Series with Paulie Harraka. I was leading a race at Colorado, and if I would've win that race, I would've had it clinched. But I got a flat tire, and he won that race, so he clinched it. It was right there. That's how Timmy and I are, and I think we'll be that way all the way to Homestead.
Yesterday: Q&A with Timmy Hill.