Michael Annett and the Pilot Flying J team put together a solid race on Saturday, scoring points in both stages and bringing the No. 1 Chevrolet home with a seventh-place finish in the Echo Park 250 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was the second top-10 finish in the opening six races of the season for the Iowa driver, and sent the team into a two-week break with some momentum behind it. Stage One Finish: 5th Starting 27th in the 163-lap event after the lineup was determined by NASCAR’s mathematical formula, Annett began moving forward at the drop of the green flag. In the first five laps, Annett had moved all the way up to 19th and was 17th two laps later. At the lap-20 competition caution, Annett told crew chief Mike Bumgarner that his Camaro was neutral for the most part and was turning well. Once the race restarted, Annett continued his rise up the order, ascending to 13th position at lap 28 and cracking the top 10 for the first time four laps later. Following a caution flag at lap 37, Annett set up for a one-lap dash to the stage flag on lap 39 in ninth place. As the cars swept into Turn 3 coming to the stage flag, Annett was directly behind a three-car skirmish among Brandon Jones, Brett Moffitt and JR Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson. As Jones and Moffitt spun, Annett missed Jones’ car by a matter of inches and finished fifth to earn six valuable stage points. After several laps on track while cleanup was effected, Annett pitted for four tires and fuel with no adjustments. The Pilot Flying J pit crew accomplished the work in good time and Annett would return to the track in ninth place after a few cars stayed out. Stage Two Finish: 6th When the green flag waved to start Stage Two, Annett swept up to seventh on the initial green and took sixth place a lap later, battling with teammate Justin Allgaier for the top five. Dropping to eighth for a few laps, Annett got back to seventh by passing Ryan Sieg at lap 57 and spent the majority of the remainder of the segment there, chasing Myatt Snider for sixth. With four laps remaining until the green-checkered flag would wave over the field, Annett got past for sixth and finished there, adding five more bonus points to his total for the day. After some discussion about changes, Bumgarner called his driver to pit road for four more tires, fuel and an air-pressure adjustment. After the stop, Annett would come off pit road in eighth position for the 83-lap run to the checkered flag. An extended caution period saw the green flag wave on lap 88, leaving 75 laps to the conclusion. Final Stage: As it had all day, the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet did not take off well, but built momentum as the run went on. Annett dropped to 10th position on the restart but came back to ninth within 10 laps, battling with Brandon Brown for eighth. He took the position at lap 103 and was running there at lap 114 when the caution waved again for a single-car spin. With two sets of tires in the pits, Bumgarner opted to bring his driver down pit road to bolt one of them on and add fuel. Rejoining the race in ninth position, Annett would start the race from the outside of the second row via the choose rule. As the race restarted, Jeremy Clements led the outside line and spun his tires hard, leaving Annett stuck behind him. Clements then had contact with another car and spun in front of the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet entering Turn 1, and Annett narrowly missed a collision. When the race restarted again at lap 123, Annett was eighth, and he swept to sixth with a move to the middle groove off Turn 2. Battling with Martin Truex Jr. and Santino Ferrucci, Annett found himself seventh at lap 133 when Sieg and JRM teammate Josh Berry tangled off Turn 4. That brought out the caution flag and Annett came down pit road with the rest of the leaders for his final set of tires. Two drivers stayed out on old tires, which made the restart somewhat perilous. Choosing the bottom line, Annett was able to avoid the lead car of Colby Howard, who went high into Turn 1 and cleared the way for the lead pack to resume racing. Annett continued to move forward, taking sixth place with 20 laps remaining. He would hold that spot until lap 151, when Riley Herbst got around him. Over the final 12 laps, Annett maintained his position and finished the event in seventh place. Allgaier held off Truex Jr. for the victory, with Harrison Burton, Gragson and AJ Allmendinger the rest of the top five. Herbst was sixth, followed by Annett, Justin Haley, Daniel Hemric and Sieg.
“Our Pilot Flying J Chevrolet was really good today, and we had a good chance to move even farther up the finishing order. The track cooled off a little late and we weren’t able to get higher than where we finished, but it was a solid day all the way around. We had a good car, did a good job in the pits and earned another good finish. We were able to score points in both stages and really put a complete race together. We get a little time off now and we’ll continue to build on this.” - Michael Annett