Michael Annett was headed toward another solid finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway, but a crash not of his making at the start of the final stage turned a drive for victory into a battle of perseverance. The damage his Pilot Flying J/American Heart Association Chevrolet sustained was too much to battle in the top 10 for the remaining laps, and the Iowa native brought his damaged machine to the finish in 17th place.
Stage One Finish: 10th Qualifying 14th on the big 2-mile oval, Annett began moving forward at the drop of the green flag. He was 12th at the end of the first lap and tracked down Justin Haley for 11th at lap 15. Six laps later, Annett passed JRM teammate Justin Allgaier for 10th, and he held that spot until the end of Stage One at lap 35. It was the fifth straight stage in which Annett had scored points this season. Under caution, Annett told crew chief Travis Mack that the splitter was hitting the track hard entering Turn 1 and that was causing the front end to remain unsettled through the corner. On the ensuing pit stop, the No. 1 team put on four fresh tires, filled the car with fuel and made wedge and chassis adjustments for Stage Two. Annett returned to the track in 13th position.
Stage Two Finish: 10th The second 35-lap stage played out almost exactly as the first one did. Annett needed just 10 laps to break back into the top 10. Over the remaining distance, Annett tried various lines around the big oval in an effort to move farther forward, but finished in 10th at the green-checkered flag, running his streak of stage points to six. During the run, Annett found his Chevrolet to be too tight up next to the wall and as the stage unfolded, it was too tight to get to the bottom in Turns 3 and 4. Mack gave Annett four more tires and fuel and sent him back out, only to bring him back to pit road three laps later to fix a faulty push-to-talk button on his in-car radio.
Final Stage: The additional stop put Annett 19th for the restart, and he followed the same script as before by moving forward. The first caution flag of the race came out on lap 82 for a spin by Haley, and Annett stayed out during the period. Restarting from 13th on the inside of the track, Annett was at the top of the speedway at the exit of Turn 2 on the first lap of green when the car of Brett Moffitt tagged the left rear of the Pilot Flying J/American Heart Association Chevrolet. That ripped the tail section off, and contact with the wall damaged the right front. Getting to pit road, Annett turned his car over to Mack and his team, which worked under the caution clock to put the Camaro back to rights. Losing a lap in the process, the crew effected repairs in plenty of time to rejoin the field, and Annett was able to meet minimum speed once the race returned to green-flag status to reset the caution clock. A quick yellow flag on the ensuing restart allowed more time for repairs, and Annett soldiered back out in 21st place only to be greeted by another crash that slowed the pace.
That caution also restored Annett to the lead lap via the free pass. Later in the race, Annett stayed on the track during a pit sequence and led lap 130. On the ensuing restart, he would have started from the pole in his damaged car, but pulled off and went to the tail of the lead lap before the green. Over the remaining distance, Annett held 17th place, again going a lap down late, but salvaging what could have been a devastating day in the points. As it was, he dropped four spots from fourth to eighth and trails the leader by 37 points after three races.
“We should have finished a lot better than 17th with this Pilot Flying J/American Heart Association Chevrolet today. We were solid top-10 in both stages and we were working on the run to the end when I got turned off Turn 2. Travis (crew chief Travis Mack) and my team did a great job on crash damage, they were really smooth in getting that done. We will roll to Phoenix and have a much better day.” - Michael Annett