News & Media

Unexpected rookie race a thrill ride for Hill, Koch

June 08, 2011, Jill Erwin,

The field probably won't look the same in two weeks as it does right now. Then again, the top two contenders for the Nationwide Series rookie of the year crown weren't sure they'd be here at this point, either.

Seven months ago, Timmy Hill wasn't old enough to be in the Nationwide races. Blake Koch had gone home to Florida and was working at the family business. Now, however?

The two are 1-2 in the rookie race despite not running every race. And they're loving every second of it.

"I really didn't [expect it]," Hill said. "I knew with missing the first race, we'd be behind. After Daytona, it seemed like none of them made it either, for different reasons. So we're all on the same playing field."

Hill leads the points with 128; Koch is 16 points back. Hill missed Daytona because he didn't turn 18 until the following week. He made his Nationwide debut at Phoenix, where he finished 29th. Koch missed Daytona and Vegas with a 27th-place Phoenix finish sandwiched in the middle.

But both have started to find their grooves. Koch didn't even expect to run the full season, but his part-time deal has become full time and he's ready to put on a run for the rookie title.

"I'm just happy to be out there," Koch said. "It's been kind of a weird transition. First I was like, 'I want some top-25s,' and we started ticking off a couple of those. Then the expectations moved to the top 20, which we got at Talladega and Darlington, and now I feel like we can be top 20 every weekend."

Third place in the rookie standings, five points behind Koch, is held by Ryan Truex, younger brother of Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. However, Chicagoland was the last scheduled race for Truex, whose sponsorship hasn't come together as Pastrana-Waltrip Racing had hoped.

"I'm just running around talking, trying to find stuff, trying to keep me in a car basically," Truex said. "It's just getting experience, not having any, and staying in a race car week after week. Hopefully we can find something. I'm pretty optimistic."

Even if he misses several races, Truex isn't out of the race. Rookie points aren't nearly as cut and dried as the regular series championship, which is decided by a combination of finishing position and bonus points.

In the rookie competition, only the top 16 races count. Points are determined only by finishing position among the rookies, with the top-finishing rookie earning 10 points, the second-place rookie getting nine, and so on. However, drivers get a point for each race they enter prior to the deadline, and they receive bonus points for top-10 finishes.

There's also a panel who meets to discuss the drivers and it can penalize drivers for any detrimental conduct.

So really, it comes down controlling what they can.

"Toward the beginning of the year, I just wanted to finish in front of Timmy Hill every weekend," Koch said. "Now I just try to do the best I can every single weekend. I'm used to the whole 10-race and 11-race schedules. There are still 21 races left this season. I just want to minimize the mistakes I make and the team makes and try to perform the best we can every weekend."

Hill said adjusting to running back in the pack has taken him as much or more time than dealing with the new Nationwide car has.

"I started the season knowing I'd be going against the top drivers in the world," Hill said. "We knew the finishes would be tough to come by, even though pretty much everyone here is used to winning. Once you get to the top, each and every one of these guys is the top of the series."

So unless things change for Truex, it's a two-man race for the rookie title.

"It's going to come down between those two, whoever can put together better finishes," Truex said. "They're both running good for the equipment they're given."

While he won't deny Truex's possible absence makes his run that much easier, Hill said there's still plenty of fight left ahead of him.

"He's worked hard to be where he's at right now," Hill said. "It's really hard for him and I hope he does find another ride.

"Right now, Blake is the guy we've got to beat. That's the guy we shoot for every week."