For most of Saturday night’s Alsco 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Michael Annett was desperately searching for the best handle on his No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet. Over the final 50 of the 200-lap total, however, he was directly in the middle of the battle that decided the winner. Annett, who came into the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs tied for ninth in points, and crew chief Travis Mack nearly made their strategy pay off with a top-three finish, eventually settling for seventh on the night. Annett’s top-10 result is his 17th of the season and has the JR Motorsports driver just 10 points out of the eighth and final playoff position following the first of three events in the Round of 12.
Stage One Finish: Annett started from 13th position based on NASCAR’s formula for determining the starting lineup and stayed there through the opening nine laps when the first yellow flag of the evening was displayed. Under caution, Annett told Mack that his Camaro was snapping loose on the exit of Turn 2 and could not hook the bottom. Looking toward the competition caution at lap 20, Annett took to the high line on the restart and immediately made up three positions to 11th. The handle was still elusive and Annett experimented with his entry and exit to try and find some speed. His Pilot Flying J Chevrolet got tighter and tighter as the run went on and Annett was sliding the nose off Turn 2 for most of that time. When the 45-lap Stage One was over, the Iowa native was 13th, missing out on all-important stage points. Under caution, Mack called him down pit road for four tires with an air-pressure adjustment and a chassis adjustment to help his front turn. Annett exited pit road in 13th for Stage Two.
Stage Two Finish: Stage Two was more of the same for the Pilot Flying J team, as Annett changed lines in an effort to take advantage of the prior adjustments. The exit of Turn 2 was especially problematic, and Annett could not move forward. The handling settled down after 10 laps and Annett was able to make better lap times, but could not improve his position. He finished Stage Two in 14th position. On the radio, Annett told Mack that he needed to be able to pick up the gas a little sooner to make an improvement on corner exit and that he was still unable to make a good launch in Turn 2. Mack responded with another chassis adjustment and went back on his earlier air-pressure change, in addition to putting on four tires and adding fuel. Annett started the final segment from 13th position.
Final Stage: The final stage began with Annett having the same difficulties in getting his car to handle on the big desert oval. The exit of Turn 2 remained his biggest problem, and the tight condition returned as the lap counter reached 135. Nine laps later, at lap 144, green-flag pit stops began among the leaders and Annett was able to move forward as each car peeled off. Annett was ninth at lap 146, seventh the following circuit and all the way up to third place on lap 148. When leader Chase Briscoe and Ryan Sieg pitted at lap 149, Annett assumed the lead for the first time all night. Mack’s strategy called for Annett to stay out until a particular lap, and Annett still held the top spot on lap 156 when the yellow flag the team needed waved for an errant tire on the infield grass. That allowed Annett to bring his car down pit lane as the leader, and Mack put on four more tires, added fuel and made another chassis tweak to get Annett back out in seventh place with fresher tires than the majority of the field.
When the green flag waved on lap 161, Annett was seventh, and needed just 10 laps to advance another spot to sixth. At lap 175, he broke into the top five by passing teammate Daniel Hemric. Annett wasn’t done, getting around Harrison Burton for fourth with 18 laps remaining. He ran there until lap 188, when the final caution of the race waved for the stalled car of Alex Labbe on pit road. With one set of tires still in the pits, Mack called Annett back in to put them on. The No. 1 pit crew executed a fast pit stop and Annett gained a spot to third for the final restart. When the green waved for the last time, Annett was fourth and stayed there until lap 197, when his Chevrolet developed a twitch in the middle of the corners at both ends of the track. Over the remaining laps, Annett dropped to seventh in the order and remained there at the checkered flag to cap a solid final-stage comeback. Annett left Las Vegas 10th in the point standings, 78 behind the leader but just 10 below the cut line for advancement to the Round of 8.
“I thought we were money on that last restart, but for some reason, the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet started to get loose in the middle of Turns 1 and 2. It felt like a tire was going down, honestly, but Turns 3 and 4 were fine. It felt weird. That last pit stop by our No. 1 crew was really good and that made a big difference. The strategy was good and we stuck with it, and it paid off when we got that caution flag while leading. We’ll go to Talladega and see about winning that one to get to the Round of 8.” - Michael Annett