Darlington Race Recap

Michael Annett drove a heady, solid race on Saturday at Darlington Raceway, guiding his throwback-themed No. 1 OREO Pilot Flying J Chevrolet to an eighth-place finish in the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines on the 1.366-mile oval. It was his 11th top-10 finish in the last 12 races, and the result moved him 251 points clear of the playoff cut line with just three races remaining in the regular season.

Stage One Finish: Annett started the 147-lap event from seventh position on the less-favored inside line, dropping four positions once the green flag waved to begin the race. Sorting out his Chevrolet over the next 18 laps, Annett told crew chief Travis Mack he could not turn down off Turn 2 on exit but did not stop at the lap-20 competition caution. As has been his habit at Darlington, Annett gained speed in the later stages of a run and that was the case on Saturday. With 15 laps remaining in the 45-lap Stage One, Annett passed Brett Moffitt at lap 30, passed Harrison Burton for ninth on lap 41 and gained one more spot to eighth before the green-checkered flag waved to end it. With the result, Annett banked three more stage points toward his season total. On the stage break, Annett pitted for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to help his turn off the critical Turn 2.

Stage Two Finish: Firing off from eighth position for the 45-lap Stage Two, Annett again held position in the top 10, and his lap times matched those of the leaders during that span. At lap 74, Annett passed JRM teammate Justin Allgaier for ninth place and kept driving forward as the laps dropped away. On the final lap of Stage Two, several cars, including JRM teammate Noah Gragson, crashed in Turn 3, allowing Annett to move up to eighth at the finish and collect another three stage points. Under caution, Annett radioed to Mack that his car was getting looser as the run went on, especially off Turn 2 when dealing with the bumps in the car and again off Turn 4. Mack responded with four tires, fuel and another chassis adjustment to help his driver at both ends of the track. On the pit stop, the pit crew cranked off a blazing-fast stop and earned three positions on the exchange, putting Annett fifth for the start of the final segment.

Final Stage: Annett took the green flag in fourth position to begin the final stage and was seventh at lap 103 when another caution slowed the action. Several of the cars ahead of him took the opportunity to hit pit road for another set of tires, including Chase Briscoe, Gragson and Burton. When the green waved again, Annett’s OREO-themed Pilot Flying J Chevrolet and its 2002 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Daytona-winning colors raced away from fifth position only to see the yellow wave again at lap 110. Mack called his driver to pit road for four tires and fuel on the following lap, sending Annett back out in 15th place. When the green waved again, Annett made up five positions in three laps and was moving forward when leader Briscoe spun entering Turn 1 after hitting fluid dropped by another car. The resulting caution—and nearly nine-minute red flag for cleanup--saw Annett gain a couple more positions to sixth for the restart with 21 laps remaining. Over the remaining distance, Annett diced in the top eight until the checkered flag to post his 14th top-10 finish in 23 races. Brandon Jones won the race, topping Ross Chastain, Ryan Sieg, Riley Herbst and Denny Hamlin. Burton led the second five, with JRM’s Noah Gragson, Annett, Timmy Hill and Myatt Snider rounding out the top 10.

“We had a good OREO Pilot Flying J Chevrolet today, and I think we won the paint-scheme battle here at Darlington. This track is tough to handle at times, and in the last segment I had to run a lot lower off Turn 2 to make any kind of speed. We had a good strategy today and our Pilot Flying J pit crew gained us a lot of positions on pit road, so all in all it was a good day from everyone. We’re consistent and the closer we get to the playoffs, that’s going to pay off. “ - Michael Annett