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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Blake Koch, from roof cleaner to NASCAR pole winner

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Blake Koch never set eyes on a NASCAR race until the 2007 Daytona 500.

That’s when the 21-year-old Florida native watched one of the most dramatic finishes in NASCAR history on TV, as Kevin Harvick edged Mark Martin by .02 seconds to win as Clint Bowyer slid down the frontstretch on his roof.

A year later, the young man who had grown up racing dirt bikes attended his first race, the Daytona 500. It ended far less dramatically.

“I remember sitting on the back straightaway in grandstands, pouring down rain,” Koch told NBC Sports. “Sitting there, not knowing if they were going to go green or not because I didn’t have a headset. I was just sitting there. We were with friends. They called the race and Matt Kenseth won. Then we sat in the parking lot for two hours. We couldn’t get out. … I did tell (my wife) we were going to do something different for parking the next time.”

Nine years later, the 31-year-old driver for Kaulig Racing earned his first NASCAR pole for the May 6 Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway. It came in his 189th start.

It was the first pole for Kaulig Racing, which competed in its inaugural season last year.

“Going through my mind was doing everything I possible could perfectly,” Koch said. “We ended up doing that and qualifying on the pole by a tenth. It was incredible, man. It was a cooler feeling than I thought it would be to get my first pole. Just how excited the team was. Man, at Talladega. That stat sticks with you for life. ‘I won the pole at Talladega.’ Everybody knows what Talladega is.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What track would you have expected to get your first pole?

Koch: A short track, any short track, really. Phoenix, Richmond, Iowa, New Hampshire. I feel like we qualify really well at the short tracks. But you know what, we go to Michigan, we go to Pocono, we’re always in the final rounds there. I knew it would come, I just didn’t know where it’d come. I absolutely didn’t think it would come at Talladega for some reason. We really don’t focus that much on single-car speed or single-car runs. We always make my car drive good in the draft. We have good notes from it. The crazy thing, man, is my car drove even better in the pack then it ever had. I had the fastest car there by itself and in the pack, it’s the best car I’ve ever had. We just had a really good car and it’s a shame that thing got torn up. But it’ll be ready for 2018 Daytona.

NBC Sports: A few days ago on Twitter you posted a picture, which you said was from six years ago or so, of you on a rooftop watering it down. What’s the context of that picture?

Koch: It was the beginning of 2011. My mom sent that to me because it popped up on her Facebook, ‘6 years ago today.’ In 2011 I was racing in the Xfinity Series, but I still had to work four days a week because I wasn’t getting paid to race at that point. I still had to make my living off the track. Those are sacrifices you have to make to get into the sport. There’s not very many seats available in NASCAR. When an opportunity comes, you take it and make the most of it. Even if you don’t get paid for a little while. I owned a pressure washer business with my stepdad and it was called Eco Clean Pressure Washing.

What I did Monday through Thursday, we went to different houses and I climbed on the roofs and we pressure washed the roofs in Florida. Then hopped on a plane Thursday afternoon and fly to the racetrack. My mom basically posted it because she was proud of how far I’ve come in the last six years or so. It’s just a cool reminder. And I wanted to post it because I’m always impassioned no matter what I do and I gave it 100 percent, no matter if I’m in NASCAR or on top of roofs cleaning it. I take passion and pride in everything I do.

NBC Sports: When did you finally step away from power washing full-time?

Koch: When me and my wife decided to move up to North Carolina and really pursue NASCAR all in. You can’t just try a little bit to make it. You won’t make it. If we hadn’t of moved to North Carolina and fully committed, I wouldn’t have made it, man. If I had a plan B, I probably would have taken it a long time ago. So when we moved up here and my wife quit her job and we moved up here without our family I had no option than to work harder than everybody else try to take advantage of every opportunity I had, and I was able to start making money driving race cars, whether it was racing or start-and-parking or spotting, I used to drive my buddies’ motor home to the track. So whatever I had to do to make ends meet is basically what I did and that led me to just staying in the sport over the years to be in a position to meet Matt Kaulig, who really took my career to a whole new level to start Kaulig Racing and sponsor me with Leaf Gutter Protection.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Koch: My first car was a 1998 Ford F150. … My mom bought the truck because I grew up racing dirt bikes, so we needed a pickup truck to put the dirt bike in the back of it and go practice and go race. By the time I was 16, she didn’t want to drive a pickup truck anymore, so she wanted to buy a car and I … basically took over the truck payments and I drove that F-150 for a couple of years.

NBC Sports: If you had a day where you didn’t have to be at the track or shop, your family was busy and you had no other obligations, how would you spend your day?

Koch: Oh man, it depends where I live. If I lived in Florida, I would go out on a boat and go deep-sea fishing from sunrise to sunset, all day long. That is what I love to do if I have any free time, is to go fishing out in the ocean. If I lived in North Carolina, my family was out-of-town, I had nothing to do. I would probably go golf right now. I’d go work on getting better at golf. I’d probably spend half the day at GoPro Motorplex and the other half of the day on the gold course.

NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Cup race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?

Koch: It would definitely be “Welcome to my House” by Flo Rida. I feel like that fits in the intro song at Bristol perfectly.

NBC Sports: What’s your attachment to that song?

Koch: I got to meet Flo Rida a couple of years ago through one of our mutual sponsors and that is just a catchy song, it’s fun. My son loves that song. It’s all about confidence. He’s all ‘welcome to my house. You guys are all in my house.’ I feel if you’re running a Cup race at Bristol and you wanted to win, that’s the attitude you’ve got to take.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun race you’ve ever been a part of?

Koch: You know what was fun? When we could tandem draft at the super speedways. I know we’re never going to do it again and it was dangerous. It was at Talladega and we had other drivers’ radio frequencies in the car. I think this was 2011 or 2012. That was really fun when you could team up with your buddy or somebody you liked or somebody you chose to and have them push you through the field and talk to them at the same time. That was really, really cool and I was glad I was able to experience that because I might never be able to experience that again.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Koch: Me and my wife have talked about going to Hawaii for our 10-year anniversary. So I’d have to say going to Hawaii is a bucket list item that I can see happening in the near future. We’re going to work towards making it happen. Hawaii on the movies and everything you see looks like the coolest place ever. And I’m not one that really likes to sight see or go different places and experience different things, but for some reason I really want to go to Hawaii and check it out.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

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Tentative 2020 Daytona Speedweeks schedule released

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The 2019 NASCAR season has been over for just a few days, but already things are starting to shape up for the 2020 season.

NASCAR revealed the tentative 2020 Daytona Speedweeks schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Gander RV and Outdoors Trucks and ARCA series. The 2020 Daytona 500 will be Feb. 16.

Here it is (subject to change):

(All times Eastern)

Thursday, February 6

7 a.m. – 6 p.m. – ARCA garage open

Friday, February 7

8 a.m. – 5 p.m. – ARCA garage open

1 – 5 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 – 2:30 p.m. – ARCA practice

3 – 4 p.m. – ARCA final practice

Saturday, February 8

7:30 a.m. – ARCA garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:35 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. – Final Cup practice for cars entered in the Clash

12:30 p.m. – ARCA qualifying (group qualifying)

1:35 – 2:25 p.m. – Cup practice for all cars

2:45 p.m. – ARCA driver/spotter meeting

3 – 3:50 p.m. – Cup practice for all cars

4:20 p.m. – ARCA driver introductions

4:45 p.m. – ARCA race (80 laps, 200 miles)

Sunday, February 9

8 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

10:30 a.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

12:30 p.m. – Cup qualifying impound (single vehicle / one lap all positions)

2:30 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

3 p.m. – Cup Clash race (75 laps, 187.5 miles)

Monday, February 10

No on-track activities scheduled

Tuesday, February 11

No on-track activities scheduled

Wednesday, February 12

No on-track activities scheduled

Thursday, February 13

10 am – 8 p.m. – Truck garage open

3 – 11 p.m. – Cup garage open

4:05 – 4:55 p.m. – Truck practice

5:15 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

5:30 – 5:55 p.m. – Truck practice

6:20 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

7 p.m. – Cup first qualifying race (60 laps, 150 miles)

8:45 p.m. – Cup second qualifying race (60 laps, 150 miles)

Friday, February 14

9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

9:30 a.m. – Truck garage opens

11 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

2:05 – 2:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice

3:10 p.m. – Truck qualifying impound (single vehicle / one lap all positions)

4:32 – 4:57 p.m. – Xfinity final practice

5:05 – 5:55 p.m. – Cup practice

6:05 p.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

7 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

7:30 p.m. – Truck race (Stages 20/40/100 laps = 250 miles)

Saturday, February 15

9:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

11 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying impound (single vehicle / one lap all positions)

11 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Cup garage open

12:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice

2 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity race (Stages 30/30/120 laps = 300 miles)

Sunday, February 16

9 a.m. – Cup garage open

12:30 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

1:45 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

2:30 p.m. – Daytona 500 (Stages 60/120/200 lap = 500 miles)

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Tyler Reddick, Star Trek and the baby name that could have been

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Tyler Reddick lets out a heavy sigh.

In that sigh, the two-time Xfinity Series champion weighs the pros and cons of one of the most important questions that’s plagued society.

As the great philosopher Weird Al Yankovic once put it, “Only question I ever thought was hard was ‘Do I like Kirk, or do I like Picard?'”

Reddick comes to his decision.

“It’s gotta be Picard,” Reddick declares to NBC Sports.

“He’s always smart, he’s one step ahead of the game most of the time. A lot of the captains, well, (William) Shatner set the brute force tone if you know what I mean. But Picard is different. He’s smart, he went about things differently and thought a different way. He’s a very, very good character. He’s my favorite for kind of those reasons.”

Why is Reddick – who is in the middle of a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, as part of his championship tour –  putting forth his take on Star Trek’s James T. Kirk vs Jean-Luc Picard debate, which has been waged since Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired on TV in 1987?

It’s because of a baby name. Or the one that could have been.

When Reddick won Saturday’s Xfinity championship race in Miami, he also won a friendly bet with his girlfriend, Alexa De Leon.

With his championship, they would name their son, scheduled to be born Jan. 17, Beau.

But there was a different name, which Alexa found on the Internet and was sold on.

“Alexa really wanted our son’s name to be Ryker,” says Reddick, who at first “was all for it.”

William T. Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Why?

You can thank Commander William T. Riker,  first officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise – D.

“Every time I hear the name, I think of that character,” says Reddick.

Reddick’s fondness for Star Trek is tied to his racing career. Before he made it to NASCAR, he raced on dirt tracks. His downtime was spent on Netflix.

“I’ve been able to pretty much watch everything,” Reddick says. “That’s how I got caught up and watched it. I would travel on the road dirt racing or whatever. I would sit on Netflix and watch all of the series, kind of in the order they’re supposed to come out. There was about a year straight … that’s all I watched when I was at the house.”

Even with his love of Trek – he has a Star Fleet insignia Pop Socket on the back of his phone – he couldn’t bring himself to pull the phaser trigger on naming his son after the jazz-loving Commander Riker.

“I don’t know, I’m worried people are going to pick on me for naming my son after a Star Trek character,” Reddick admits. “As crazy as it sounds, it was one of the reasons I didn’t like the name Ryker, because I watched Star Trek so much.”

Ryker Reddick is a strong name. It’s not too late to make the change.

“I can’t now, because I’m just so headstrong,” Reddick says. “I just like the name Beau better.”

That said, Reddick isn’t just a fan of old Star Trek. He watches the series Star Trek: Discovery that debuted in 2017.

Oh, and he’ll get his Picard fix early next year. Patrick Stewart returns in the CBS All Access series Picard to play the character he last portrayed in the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis.

“(Alexa) made fun of me for being so excited about it,” Reddick says. “She said I was like, ‘fangirling.'”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

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The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but he fell short in making it to the championship round and defending last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

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Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.