Racing is life for Blake Koch. But until Matt Kaulig started Kaulig Racing, he was circling around the XFINITY Series garage, searching for any opportunity he could get.
However, until 2016, Koch never earned a top-10 finish. Now, with his career beginning to reach what could be the start of something special, he has high hopes of topping a 2016 Chase run with a trip to Victory Lane in 2017.
Thanks to Kaulig Racing, he feels this season is his best shot at doing so. Frontstretch spoke with Koch prior to the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, discussing his expectations, relationship with crew chief Chris Rice and more.
Joseph Wolkin, Frontstretch: You are returning to Kaulig Racing this year. What are your expectations?
Blake Koch: My expectations are to progress as a team, do better as a driver, get better communication between Chris [Rice] and I and make our team look better. We need to strive to be better, and that’s what we are going to do. That normally leads to good results, so that’s all we need to worry about.
Wolkin: You guys had a strong end to the season, nearly advancing to the championship round. What do you need to do to pick up the momentum from where you guys left off?
Koch: We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We need to put in harder work than the other teams are. Also, we need to get a little bit better. It’s going to take a little time. We were a first-year team, so we had no notes. We started from scratch and we know we’ll be better this year because Chris and I worked together at every single track. We got a lot of the kinks out of the program, so we should have a better year.
Wolkin: Do you feel like you met or even exceeded expectations given it was the team’s first year?
Koch: I think we exceeded other people’s expectations for sure. We shocked ourselves at times, but we never put a limit on what we could do because we have great people and a great sponsor in LeafFilter. They provide us all the resources we need to have faster racecars. We have everything we need to be a race-winning team. We just need a little time on our hands. As time goes on, we’ll have a little more of that. Before you know it, we’ll be competing for wins.
Wolkin: This is going to be your second season working with Chris Rice. How is your relationship growing with him?
Koch: Even before Kaulig Racing, Chris was a friend of mine, we talked periodically. Throughout working with each other every week last year, we just grew closer. He is a great friend. Sometimes, I forget he’s my crew chief. Him and I worked really hard with Matt [Kaulig]’s leadership to start Kaulig Racing. We worked with each other, talking every afternoon and even in the off-season with updates of how the team is. I sometimes forget he’s my crew chief because he’s just my buddy, he’s my friend. We have this race team together, but he is my crew chief. We have this relationship where we can be open with each other and honest. I think that’s very important.
Wolkin: You guys have such a close relationship. How would you compare him to other crew chiefs you have worked with?
Koch: He is probably the most intense I’ve had and the most competitive. We could be first on the board in practice and he’s not happy because the lap should have been faster. He’s never content with where the racecar is at, which pushes me to a new level. It’s helped me as a driver. But we worked through some arguments last year because he pushes so hard. It was for my own good and for our race team’s own good.
We’re both committed to each other and want the best for each other. Sometimes, that leads to some heated moments. But no matter how the day goes at the racetrack, we’re hanging out and having dinner together.
Wolkin: With the Richard Childress Racing alliance, how is that going to play in come the new season?
Koch: We have all the equipment we need from them. All of the resources have always been available, but we will be able to utilize a little bit more resources this year even though we’ve always had access to all of the resources. That alliance is incredible, and we’re very appreciative of RCR for opening their doors to us and letting us come in and utilize their resources and all of the hard work they’ve done over the decades. It’s a pretty amazing relationship. The engines are great and ECR just keeps getting better. The fact we can grow with RCR is huge.
Wolkin: What are your expectations for this year? Do you feel like you can get rid of the egg in the win column?
Koch: Yeah, I really do. It’s going to be tough, but I’m all about setting big goals. Matt Kaulig is all about goals. Set big goals and work your butt off to reach those goals. I’m actually sitting in my office right now and I wrote on my board: Get a pole and win a race. Those are two things I really want to get, Lord-willing. We’re going to work really hard to get those. Some other goals are to have great points days, making the playoffs and being there at Homestead. Personally, I really want to win a race and bring home a trophy to my son, Carter.
Wolkin: As the off-season wraps up, what have you been up to with your break?
Koch: I’ve been trying to spend as much time with my family as I possibly can. I took the whole month of December completely off, trying not to think about racing and just focus on my kids and my wife. When January came, I couldn’t help but get into race mode. I started watching races on TV, studied some data, working on my fitness and nutrition. I’m just trying to be the best that I can be when I get in the racecar.