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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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Daytona road course trophy: Handle with care

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A word of warning for the Cup Series driver who wins Sunday’s inaugural race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

When you’re celebrating the victory, don’t get too excited with the trophy.

It could wind up all over Victory Lane.

That’s because the trophy waiting at the end of the 65-lap/234.65-mile-race is made out of glass.

More: Will chaos (and rain) reign on the Daytona road course?

Via: NASCAR

The 18” tall/4.5” wide trophy for the Daytona road course race was produced by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. It’s the same institution that’s been responsible for designing the Watkins Glen International trophy since 2012.

Sunday’s race is being held in the place of the Cup Series’ annual visit to Watkins Glen.

Incorporating a blown glass cup, the trophy is inspired by the history of NASCAR and racing at Daytona.

“Thinking about the history of the track and long-held traditions, I was reminded that historically, trophies used to be cups and have evolved into sculptural forms,” said Eric Meek, Sr. Manager of Hot Glass Programs at The Corning Museum of Glass, said in a media release. “We took this trophy back to a more traditional shape. Daytona is the most historical track, and in thinking about a trophy design for a race held in this storied location, I was transported back to the golden age of speed. I wanted to design something that felt like a bit of a throwback – like it belonged in the era of streamline racers and the quest to go faster.”

NASCAR Pinty’s Series 2020 TV schedule released

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The NASCAR Pinty’s Series, which competes in Canada, will get its season under way this weekend after it was postponed back in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shortened season will consist of three doubleheaders with twin 125-mile races.

The races will be held at Sunset Speedway (Aug. 15), Flamboro Speedway (Aug. 29) and Jukasa Speedway (Sept. 12).

More: Xfinity Series start time for Daytona road course

No NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion or Rookie of the Year will be crowned in 2020 due to the shortened schedule. There will be special recognition for the overall winner of the shortened season.

All races will air delayed on TSN and RDS in Canada and MAVTV in the United States. Fans in the United States can stream races after they air on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

Here is the full schedule with TV information.

 

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Daytona road course: Start time, forecast and more

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Saturday’s Xfinity race at Daytona will mark the first time the series has competed in the track’s road course circuit.

Austin Cindric, who has won four of the last five races, is on the pole. He is joined on the front row by fellow Ford driver Chase Briscoe.

Here are the details for the Xfinity race at the Daytona road course (all times ET):

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:07 p.m by Dr. Jeff Jarvis, president of UNOH. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 8:30 a.m. Drivers report to their cars at 2:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3 p.m. by Chaplain Farzad Nourian. The national anthem will be performed at 3:01 p.m. by Temecula Road.

DISTANCE: The race is 52 laps (187.72 miles) around the 3.61-mile road course

PACE LAP: At the direction of race control, the entire field will go down pit road during a pace lap for pit road speed verification. If a driver stops in the pit box for any reason, pulls over or slows down, they will start at the rear of the field.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 15. Stage 2 ends on Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green followed by the race broadcast at 3 p.m. ET. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast will begin at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for cloudy skies, a high of 88 degrees and a 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Austin Cindric beat AJ Allmendinger and Chase Briscoe to win at Road America.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

Justin Marks planning to start new Cup team

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Former NASCAR driver Justin Marks is in the process of starting a new Cup Series team and competing as early as 2021, Marks detailed to the Sports Business Journal.

Marks, who has 80 NASCAR starts and last competed in 2018, is building a team called Trackhouse that would have a “cause-marketing focus around promoting STEM education” according to SBJ.

More: Bubba Wallace lands multi-year deal with DoorDash

Marks, who once was a co-owner of an ARCA Menards West team with the late Harry Scott, said a goal of the team is to “serve America’s minorities and underrepresented youth population”

Marks told SBJ he is in negotiations to acquire a charter for the team, that his family foundation will use investment capital to fund 50% of the team’s budget and that a “nationwide family entertainment business” will be a sponsor.

One of Marks’ partners will be Ty Norris, a former executive at Michael Waltrip Racing.

Click here for more from Sports Business Journal.