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Timmy Hill, Blake Koch battling hard for Nationwide rookie title

Timmy Hill
Timmy Hill

By Lee Montgomery
Special to Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

Some of NASCAR's best have won the rookie title in the Nationwide Series, from Jeff Gordon to Kevin Harvick to Greg Biffle to Kyle Busch to Carl Edwards.

Timmy Hill and Blake Koch are hoping to add their names to that list. Hill and Koch are locked in a tight battle for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award in the Nationwide Series as they fight to follow current points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the series' top rookie.

Both Hill and Koch drive for small, underfunded teams, and this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway for the Dollar General 300 and at most other races, their goal is the same: Finish.

Hill, who missed the season-opener at Daytona because he wasn't of legal NASCAR driving age (18), leads the rookie points by two over Koch based on a season of consistency. He's dropped out of only two races, and while he hasn't finished higher than 11th, he's only finished lower than 30th four times.

"Going into it, we knew everybody wasn't really going to trust me, and I kinda had to prove myself," said Hill, who drives for Rick Ware Racing. "My main goal was to get laps and show the drivers that even though I was an 18-year-old kid that I was a respectful driver. I was there not to wreck cars but to get the job done and prove that I was going to be there for a long time."

He's not wrecked out of a single race this season, with a best finish of 11th at Road America.

Koch, who is eight years older than Hill but has a similar experience level because of a late start in racing, has four DNFs this year for MacDonald Motorsports, two for crashes. Like Hill, Koch has to throttle himself back to take care of a small fleet of racecars.

"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," said Koch, who is in Jimmy Means' car at Chicago because his regular team had a prior sponsorship commitment to Scott Wimmer. "We're in a situation where we have two racecars-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."

The rookie scoring system is complex, with the best 16 finishes counting toward the season title. It starts with points being awarded to each rookie relative to the others, but it also includes bonus points for a top-10 finish and for where a rookie finishes in the final season standings. Plus, a panel judges each rookie based on conduct on and off the track.

Hill and Koch admit they often pay attention to each other during a race weekend, knowing how important the rookie award would be.

"If we unload pretty good, and we're flirting with the top 20, I really don't pay attention to where Timmy's at," Koch said. "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 (of Hill)."

Said Hill, "It's kind of funny: It seems like every track we go to, we're within one or two spots on the practice chart-same thing for qualifying and same thing for the race. We're normally nose to tail. We're right there with each other pretty much every race."