Michael Annett raced to his fourth top-10 finish in the last six races on Saturday, taking his No. 1 Gatorade-themed Pilot Flying J Darrell Waltrip throwback to a sixth-place finish in the Steakhouse Elite 200 for NASCAR Xfinity Series cars at Darlington Raceway. Annett and his JR Motorsports teammates all finished in the top seven on a banner day for the team, which began with team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. pacing the field in his father’s No. 8 Chevrolet from the late 1980s. Stage One Finish: 10th Beginning the annual throwback race from 20th position following NASCAR’s mathematical formula was applied earlier in the week, Annett sorted out his No. 1 Chevrolet over the first 20 laps, rising five positions on the opening lap and picking off positions to 11th before the competition caution waved at lap 20. Annett told crew chief Mike Bumgarner early in the run that his Chevrolet had good speed and was handling well over most of the worn track surface on NASCAR’s first superspeedway. Staying on-track, Annett moved to the top 10 for the restart and stayed there for the remainder of the 45-lap Stage One, eventually finishing 10th to pick up a valuable stage point. On the break, Annett told Bumgarner his car was handling well but building a little tight in Turns 1 and 2 and asked for a chassis adjustment to help with that. Bumgarner responded with four tires, fuel and a slight adjustment to the chassis, sending his driver back out in 14th position for Stage Two. Stage Two Finish: 7th In traffic as the 45-lap Stage Two got under way, Annett jumped two spots up the order just a couple of laps and cracked the top 10 at lap 63. He was ninth at lap 84 when the caution waved for a two-car accident in Turn 1. With just six laps remaining until the Stage Two checkered, Annett stayed out as several cars ahead decided to take tires early. That put him fifth for the short run to the green-and-white checkered flag to end Stage Two. Over the remaining laps, Annett ran as high as third before the cars with fresh tires caught up, and he ended the stage in seventh. That earned him four more stage points and put him in good position for the end of the race. Coming to pit road for his service, Annett got four tires, fuel and a bit more of the same adjustment he received on his first stop. Exiting pit road, Annett slotted into 14th position for the final segment. Final Stage: As the green flag once again waved over the field, Annett was in the middle of the pack and was caught out on an entry to Turns 1 and 2 early on which put him back to 21st at lap 101. From there, Annett began to move forward once the field had settled out. The Iowa native was up to 15th by lap 112 and continued to pick off cars. Annett rose to 12th at lap 121. Six laps later, a big crash on the backstretch brought the caution flag out again, which left the No. 1 Pilot Flying J team with a chance to come to pit road for fresh tires. On the stop, Annett took four tires and fuel with another chassis adjustment and returned to the event in 14th. Once the green flag replaced the yellow, Annett began to move forward again, sitting 12th when the eighth caution flag of the day waved at lap 133. With a set of tires still sitting in the pits, Annett made the decision to stay out for the final run, saying his Gatorade-themed Pilot Flying J Chevrolet was handling well. Back under green at lap 137, Annett was 12th at lap 143 when the caution waved yet again for a spin. Bumgarner asked his driver if he wanted the last remaining set of tires for the run to the finish, and Annett decided to stay on the track with what he had. That turned out to be a solid move, as he moved to seventh for the green-white-checkered finish that would come. Over the final two-lap run, Annett held seventh position and cement his fourth top-10 run in the last six races. Following the race, Annett was moved up to sixth after one of the cars ahead of him was disqualified. JRM’s Justin Allgaier won the race, with JRM teammate Josh Berry a close second. Brandon Jones was third ahead of Daniel Hemric and Jeremy Clements. Annett led the second five with Brett Moffitt, Ryan Sieg, Alex Labbe and Harrison Burton.
“It wasn’t really what we wanted today, but it’s a good start for this summer stretch. Our Gatorade Pilot Flying J Chevrolet was pretty good most of the day and I messed us up by losing some track position in Stage Two. The car handled pretty well all day long and we had a good day in the points. I hope DW liked our throwback to his 1979 Gatorade Chevrolet, and we had fun. Congratulations to Justin on the victory. It was a great day for JR Motorsports with all four of us in the top 10.” - Michael Annett