Michael Annett and the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet team bounced back from an early exit at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier in the week with a solid 11th-place finish in Saturday’s EchoPark 250 for NASCAR Xfinity Series cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway. A strategy play on what turned out to be the penultimate caution flag of the day gave the team an opportunity to finish even higher, but the race ran the distance with just one more caution instead of the needed two.
Stage One Finish: 13th The pre-race draw for starting positions put Annett 21st for the initial green, which meant the Iowa native would take off with plenty of traffic to deal with. That didn’t seem to slow Annett down, as he needed just eight laps to reach the top 15. When the first caution of the race flew on lap 16, taking the place of the planned competition caution set for lap 20, Annett stayed out and advanced to 13th place. Under caution, Annett told crew chief Travis Mack that he was free on both entry and back to the gas.
Over the remaining laps of the 40-lap Stage One, Annett experimented with various lines around the worn-out 1.54-mile speedway and was 13th at the finish. On his subsequent pit stop, Annett got four tires and a full tank of fuel as well as wedge and chassis adjustments. He gained two positions for the start of Stage Two, and added another after a pit-road penalty ahead of him.
Stage Two Finish: 9th Taking the green flag from 11th position, Annett again moved forward at the start of Stage Two, joining the top 10 in just nine laps. At lap 70, when the caution flag waved for a spin off Turn 2, Annett told Mack he needed lateral grip but that his entry and back to the gas was better from the changes on the first stop. With just six laps remaining in Stage Two, Annett moved up two positions to seventh on the initial break, but gave both back over the remaining distance to finish Stage Two in ninth position. That earned him two stage points as well. On the pit stop at the end of Stage Two, Annett got four more Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel, as well as a pair of chassis adjustments, and lined up 10th for the final stage following another pit penalty on a car ahead of him in the order.
Final Stage: Taking the green flag from 10th position, Annett ran in the top 13 for the first 10 laps before Josh Williams looped his car off Turn 4 to bring out fifth yellow flag of the day. After some discussion, Mack made the call to stay out as the rest of the cars ahead of him came to pit road, giving his driver the lead for three laps. When the green flag waved again at lap 102, Annett chose the top line for the restart and Chase Briscoe got the jump on the inside as the cars headed to Turn 1. Annett dropped 10 spots on the first lap and was 15th on lap 104 as the cars with fresher tires got past. He stabilized in 17th position and ran there until lap 112, when he passed Myatt Snider for 16th. Annett passed Brandon Brown for 15th just a few laps before the last caution of the day waved at lap 126. That allowed Annett to come down pit road to get one of the two sets of tires he had remaining as well as adjust the handling of the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet.
He came out 14th after the four-tire stop, but three speeding penalties ahead of him put him back to 10th for what turned out to be the final restart. Firing off from the outside line, Annett dropped back to 14th in the initial rush before finding his groove and worked his way back to 11th at lap 144. He spent the remaining laps chasing 10th spot, falling just a few tenths of a second short at the checkered flag. Annett remained 13th in points after eight races.
“We were in pretty good position to make a run over the last stint, but after the last stop, the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet got loose, looser than it had been most of the day. We stayed out when everyone came in for tires there and were in good position if the caution came out late, but it didn’t. It was a decent day, and we’ll take that after Bristol. Looking forward to next week.” - Michael Annett