Entering Saturday’s Driver for the Cure 250 on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Michael Annett needed to overcome a 38-point deficit to advance to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. At the end of the 68-lap race, Annett’s ninth-place finish in the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet left him short of the opportunity to compete in the second round with a chance to win the championship. The top-10 finish in the rain and darkness of today’s event was Annett’s 18th of the season, one shy of his career-best total of 19 set last season.
Stage One Finish: Still smarting from last week’s post-race disqualification from the race at Talladega Superspeedway, which would have given the Iowa driver a less daunting gap to overcome in the points, Annett started the cutoff race for the Round of 8 from 14th on the grid. After two laps of feeling out the Roval, Annett was 16th in the order when the caution flag waved for a crash in Turn 14. While the field was still slow under the yellow flag, the rain began. The remnants of Hurricane Delta would remain on site for the remainder of the race, and Annett headed to pit road for a set of rain tires along with the rest of the field. Annett sorted out his Pilot Flying J Chevrolet on the wet tires and was running 20th when the caution waved for the first of many multi-car crashes. Crew chief Travis Mack called his driver to pit road for fuel and an adjustment to help with the rainy surface. That put him 29th in the running order and Annett gained nine positions over the final five laps to finish 20th. Annett stayed on the track during the stage break and lined up fourth on the outside of the second row for Stage Two.
Stage Two Finish: Stage Two was just four laps old when the caution flag waved again for a crash involving JRM teammate Noah Gragson and Riley Herbst, one of the drivers Annett and the No. 1 team were battling to advance in the playoffs. Under caution, the rain picked up and NASCAR put out the red flag with Annett holding fifth place. Just prior to the red coming out, Annett reported that his windshield wiper had stopped working. After nearly 40 minutes, racing resumed and Annett was in the top six as the field swept through Turn 2. Heading toward Turn 3, the Iowa native was caught in a gaggle of cars that had gotten out of shape and did damage to the right front of the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet. Driving back around once he got going again, Annett reported to Mack that the steering was fine and the damage cosmetic.
On pit road, the team cut away the damaged bodywork and sent their driver back out in 30th position. Another quick yellow allowed Annett to come back down pit road for two tires, more fuel and a clean-up of the repair work at lap 39. Over the final lap, Annett made up one position to finish the stage in 27th position. Annett would again stay on the track at the end of the stage and advanced to 16th for the start of the final segment. During the break, Annett reported that his visibility had gotten worse inside the car.
Final Stage: The final stage got under way with Annett advancing to the top 15 in short order. Eight laps into it, the caution waved again for a stalled machine with Annett in 13th. Once the race resumed, Annett jumped to ninth place and would stay there for much of the remainder of the race despite the rain returning and the darkness getting harder to handle. Annett was 10th at lap 61 when the yellow waved again for a stalled car in the racing line in Turn 2 and ninth when the caution waved again for Brandon Brown’s submerged machine at lap 65. That pushed the race into overtime, and Annett took the green for the final three laps in 11th. Over the remaining distance, Annett made up two positions to finish ninth, leaving Annett and the No. 1 team 45 points shy of advancing to the Round of 8.
“That is probably the craziest thing we’ve ever done, racing in the rain at Charlotte on the Roval. It was crazy. I was absolutely blind out there at times, the later in the day it got. The infield was really dark. We knew we had to come here and try to win the race, and we did everything we could to do that. I am very proud of this No. 1 Pilot Flying J team, Travis Mack, and everybody at JR Motorsports. We will hit these next four races as hard as we can and get a good bunch of momentum going.” - Michael Annett