Blake Koch, who celebrated his 25th birthday last Saturday, drives for veteran car owner Jim Offenbach, whose team has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
Courtesy: Kevin Green, NASCAR
Last year’s performance by Blake Koch (No. 21 Daystar Chevrolet) at Colorado National Speedway was one of the most memorable of his rookie season. So, it’s no wonder the second-year driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West is anxious to get back to the .375-mile track, just north of Denver.
He will get his shot this week when the series heads to CNS for the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge 150 on Saturday, Aug. 14.
“We are really excited to go to Colorado,” said Koch, who nearly stole the show there a year ago. “It’s a really nice facility and I love the people there. The fans are awesome in Colorado.”
The 2009 event started off with a strong qualifying lap for the driver from West Palm Beach, Fla.
“That was our best qualifying effort last year,” he said of turning in the third-quickest time. “We got the car pretty good, but we were fighting a tight condition on the race car all day and most of the night. We faded back to about seventh in the race. I got pinned down on the bottom and couldn’t do much.”
That’s when his crew chief on the Golden Gate Racing Team, Steve Portenga, directed Koch to make a change. Portenga, who as a driver in the series scored one of his seven career wins at CNS in 2001, instructed Koch to try the higher line around the track.
“Steve got on the radio and told me to start working my way up the race track to the outside groove,” Koch said. “When I got there, we started going toward the front and ended up a few laps later taking the lead from Eric Holmes.”
Although Koch charged out front and paced the field for the next 17 laps, a flat tire eventually derailed his shot at a win.
“Under caution, we had a right front tire going down,” he said. “When we went green, the car quit handling and it ended up rubbing on the sway bar and we ended up blowing a right front.”
While the ultimate outcome of the race was not what he had hoped for, Koch said the event did bolster his confidence.
“It was definitely a confidence boost to prove to myself and the team that we were capable of running up front,” he said. “I believe we have shown that a couple of times this year, as well. We are just waiting for all the pieces of the puzzle to come together and get our first win.”
Koch, who celebrated his 25th birthday last Saturday, drives for veteran car owner Jim Offenbach, whose team has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
Although he has had a solid season this year, Koch does not feel his sixth position in the championship standings is reflective of just how well things have gone – with three top fives and six top-10 finishes in his first eight races.
“The points are something that have frustrated me, because we have a lot of good finishes,” he said. “Unfortunately, two of our bad races were races with a larger field of cars.”
Koch acknowledges, meanwhile, that a win would be a big boost to his effort.
“We for sure need a win this year,” he said. “With a win and a couple more top fives, we should be able get back up toward the front.”
Koch, who had limited experience in stock cars when he came into the series at the end of the 2008 season, says he is pleased with his progress. In addition to running the full schedule in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Koch has run a few events in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and in ARCA this year.
“Over the last year and a half, I feel like a different race car driver,” said Koch, who estimated he had only competed in about 24 races in any kind of stock car prior to joining the series. “I have more experience in a (K&N Pro Series) West car than I do in any other car in my career. I feel like it’s been a big help. Now, when I do get in another car, I feel like the cars that we’re running can improve you in late models; they are very similar to the NASCAR Nationwide (Series) cars that I’ve been driving; and they’re really similar to the ARCA cars. So, it’s a good all-round car to get you prepared for any direction you want to go in your career.”
The race … The Toyota / NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge 150 is the ninth of 12 races on the NASCAR K&N Series West schedule for 2010. It marks the only series visit to the state of Colorado this year.
The procedure … The starting field is 22 cars, including provisionals. The first 18 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (56.25 miles).
The track … Colorado National Speedway is a .375-mile paved oval with four degrees of banking in the straights and progressive banking of six to 12 degrees in the corners. The track has hosted seven series events.
The records … Qualifying: Brian Ickler, June 2, 2007, 82.057 mph, 16.452 seconds; Race: Paulie Harraka, Aug. 15, 2009, 63.341 mph, 53 minutes 17 seconds.
Narrow margin … The point-spread between drivers in the top 10 of the championship standings is very close. Paulie Harraka (No. 12 NAPA Gold Filters Toyota) and Moses Smith (No. 16 HASA Pool Products/White Flyer Toyota) are tied in points, while Blake Koch (No. 21 Daystar Chevrolet) and Luis Martinez Jr. (No. 6 King Taco/Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil Ford) are separated by just one point.
Holmes Takes Aim At Toyota/NAPA Bonus
The No. 20 NAPA Toyota team with driver Eric Holmes has a shot at a $10,000 bonus as part of this year’s Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge.
Holmes has won two of the first three races that are part of the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge. He can clinch the bonus for winning three of the five Bonus Challenge races with a victory at either Colorado National Speedway in Dacono, Colo., on Aug. 14 or Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, on Sept. 12.
Five races on the 2010 schedule comprise the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge, a program operated by Bill McAnally Racing Promotions. Teams competing in the five events are eligible to share in more than $100,000 in bonus money being offered by Toyota and NAPA.
The Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge events that have been completed were at All American Speedway, Roseville, Calif., (won by Paulie Harraka); at Douglas County Speedway, Roseburg, Ore., (won by Holmes); and at Montana Raceway Park, Kalispell, Mont., (also won by Holmes).
With his win at Roseville, Harraka also has a shot at the $10,000 bonus, but would have to win at both Colorado and Miller Motorsports Park.
According to the program, any registered team that participates in all five Toyota/NAPA Bonus Challenge events will receive a $3,000 bonus after the event at MMP. Any registered team that has a top-three finish in all five Toyota/NAPA Bonus Challenge events will receive an additional $5,000 bonus. Any registered team that wins three Toyota/NAPA Bonus Challenge events will receive an additional $10,000 bonus. Any registered team that wins all five Toyota/NAPA Bonus Challenge events would receive an additional bonus of $25,000.
Last year’s event …
Paulie Harraka held off a fierce charge by Jim Warn in the closing laps of this event at Colorado National Speedway a year ago to capture his first career win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
It was an all-NAPA front row for Bill McAnally Racing – with Harraka on the outside, starting beside his teammate, Eric Holmes.
Holmes, who won the Coors Light Pole Award in qualifying, dominated the first half of the race.
“We saved our stuff for the first half of the race,” said Harraka, who trailed Holmes in second. “We were in a conserve mode. We just gradually worked into a race mode. When it came to the last 30 (laps), it was 100 percent race mode.”
It was not Harraka, but rookie rival Blake Koch who was the first to wrestle the lead from Holmes. Koch used the high groove to charge by Harraka for second and then sail past Holmes on the outside on Lap 82. But that was just the beginning of some major shuffling for positions among the leaders, as drivers began taking advantage of the multiple grooves around the .375-mile oval.
Jason Bowles took first from Koch on Lap 99, only to have Harraka get by him 10 laps later. Harraka then held off repeated challenges by Warn to take the victory by a margin of .219 seconds.
With his runner-up finish, Warn, of Aurora, Ore., nailed down a career-best finish in his No. 10 MJ2 Racing/GPI Performance.com Chevrolet. Harraka’s third teammate at BMR – Moses Smith of Tempe, Ariz., – finished third in the No. 16 HASA Pool Products/White Flyer Toyota. Greg Pursley of Newhall, Calif., was fourth in the No. 26 Gene Price Motorsports/Star Nursery Chevrolet. Recovering from an early incident to finish fifth was Jeff Jefferson of Naches, Wash., in the No. 42 ESI Construction Chevrolet. Rounding out the top 10 were Travis Milburn, Jamie Dick, Johnathan Hale, Holmes and Phil Dugan.
This Week’s Leaders
Through 8 races of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season:
Points leader – Eric Holmes, 1,292
Money won – Eric Holmes, $57,785
Laps led – David Mayhew, 246
Laps completed – Jonathon Gomez, 1,092
Average finish – Eric Holmes, 6.1
Victories – Eric Holmes, 3
Poles – David Mayhew, 3
Final Notes From Montana
Third win for Holmes … Eric Holmes (No. 20 NAPA Toyota) scored his third win of the season with a victory in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge 150 at Montana Raceway Park in Kalispel, Mont., on Saturday, Aug. 7. It marked his 12th career series win and boosted his lead in the championship standings to 79 points.
Another pole for Pursley … Greg Pursley (No. 26 GPM Performance Parts Ford) turned in the fast time in qualifying at MRP, winning his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season and the fourth of his career in the series. Pursley lapped the .250-mile oval in 13.772 seconds (65.350 mph).
Lewis nails another top five … With a fifth-place finish at Montana, Gary Lewis (No. 09 SEFNCO Communications Chevrolet) now has top-five finishes in both his series starts. He finished third in his series debut at Roseville in March.
Green flag run … The first 103 laps of the race at Montana Raceway Park went caution-free. Overall, the event was slowed by just three cautions for 20 laps.
Up Next: Road Racing At Miller Motorsports Park
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West next heads to Tooele, Utah, for its annual event on the spacious road course at Miller Motorsports Park on Sept. 12. The event is the 10th of 12 races on the 2010 series schedule and the third of three road course races this season. Patrick Long dominated the competition on the 3.048-mile track in last year’s event. Three visits to the MMP have resulted in three different race winners and three different pole winners.
SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR STANDINGS
Luis Martinez Jr., 65
Michael Self, 61
Todd Souza, 55
Josh Combs, 50
Travis Milburn, 43
Greg Rayl, 40
Taylor Barton, 32
Troy Ermish, 31
Justin Funkhouser, 20
COORS LIGHT POLE AWARD
David Mayhew, 3
Greg Pursley, 2
Jason Bowles, 1
Paulie Harraka, 1
Andrew Myers, 1
COCA-COLA MOVE OF THE RACE AWARD
Wes Banks, 1
Troy Ermish, 1
Johnathan Hale, 1
Paulie Harraka, 1
Timmy Hill, 1
Gary Lewis, 1
Stan Silva, 1
Moses Smith, 1
FEATHERLITE MOST IMPROVED DRIVER AWARD
Blake Koch, 2
Paulie Harraka, 1
Eric Holmes, 1
Travis Milburn, 1
Paul Pedroncelli Jr., 1
Michael Self, 1
Moses Smith, 1
WIX LAP LEADER AWARD
David Mayhew, 2
David Gilliland, 1
Jonathon Gomez, 1
Eric Holmes, 1
Patrick Long, 1
Brett Moffitt, 1
Auggie Vidovich, 1