Blake Koch earned a career-best Iowa finish, Michael Annett had to battle electrical issues in his No. 5 Chevrolet and Brendan Gaughan says he and his team aren’t worried about anything except the upcoming playoffs.
The three NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers are currently bringing up the rear in the series’ playoff standings, winless thus far but inside the top 12 with seven races remaining before the playoffs get underway.
Koch and Gaughan qualified for the postseason last year while Annett was wrapping up an uneventful stint in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“Yeah, I watch the points,” Koch, driver of the No. 11 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing, said Saturday after an eighth-place finish at Iowa Speedway. “As soon as I leave here I get in my rental car and keep refreshing (the web page) until they’re uploaded, that’s how much I watch the points.
“We’ve lived on the bubble since we started this deal last year; we feel like we’re a better race team, I feel like I’m a better driver than this point last year. We just had our best Iowa starting position and our best Iowa finishing position so we always strive to constantly improve. That takes hard work and that’s what my team does and that’s what led to better results this week.”
For Koch, who qualified seventh, it was his first top-10 finish since Bristol. He’s 10th in points as the series readies for this weekend’s trip to Watkins Glen and Saturday’s Zippo 200 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR).
“We know these next five races, Iowa included, the road courses and Bristol, are some of our best tracks so we want to capitalize, give ourselves a points cushion and try to lock ourselves in before we go to Chicago,” he said.
Three of the next four stops for the series come at road courses – Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America.
RELATED: Watch Iowa race recap
Annett, sixth in points earlier this season, is now 11th and has only one top-10 result in his last 10 starts. At Iowa, a balky ignition box was thought to be the culprit that resulted in a lengthy repair job and left the JR Motorsports driver 33rd in the final rundown.
“Once they got it replaced and took it out they put the temp gun to it and it was about 200 degrees,” Annett said afterward. “We haven’t had any issues all year on any of the cars’ ignition-wise so that’s something we’ll take a look at … just more bad luck.”
Because of his proximity to the cutoff line, Annett admitted he is paying close attention to the points as the number of regular-season races shrinks.
“We have to watch them when the guys around us are getting top-10s,” he said. “The 62 (of Gaughan) finished 13th today … we definitely have to watch it. We’d love to go win a race and not have to worry about it but we have to get our cars better.
“The way we’ve been running, even in the playoffs we’re not going to be in it very long if we don’t run better.”
JRM teammate Elliott Sadler is winless but leads the points standings while fellow JRM driver William Byron is next behind him in second with three wins. The team’s third driver Justin Allgaier has one win and is third in points.
Gaughan was as far back as 17th in points at one time this year, but has fought back to his current spot of 12th. He is 14 points ahead of J.J. Yeley, who is 13th, and 16 ahead of Ryan Sieg (14th).
Gaughan has managed three top 10s in his last 10 starts in the No. 62 Chevrolet fielded by Richard Childress Racing.
The points picture is out there, but Gaughan said he’s focused on other things.
“I’m not watching too much because we’ve been fast enough all year,” he said. “We just had a bad stretch of races that put us in that spot.
“We’re in a playoff spot now and there’s no way that an RCR car and us aren’t going to make the playoffs. We’re not worrying about it now because all we’re trying to get ready for now is to make sure we’re fast enough when the playoffs come.”
Only three drivers thus far have all but clinched a playoff spot with a win this year – Allgaier and Ryan Reed (Roush Fenway Racing) each have a single victory while Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Byron has three.
Joey Logano is the defending champion of the Zippo 200; he and seven other Monster Energy Series drivers are entered in Saturday’s race.