Michael Annett and the Pilot Flying J team put together a complete race on Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, earning stage points in both of the first two segments and closing out the Alsco Uniforms 300 for NASCAR Xfinity Series cars with a season-best sixth-place finish. It was the first top-10 effort for the Iowa native this season and his best finish since a fourth-place effort in the 2020 season finale at Phoenix Raceway last November.
Stage One Finish: 6th
Starting 13th by virtue of NASCAR’s mathematical formula, Annett’s plan for the 200-lap event on the 1.5-mile desert oval was simple: stay ahead of the track and the changes and race every lap. As has been his habit so far this season, Annett moved forward at the green flag, gaining two spots on the first lap to 11th and another two laps later to crack the top 10. On lap 15, Annett advanced to eighth place and was moving on seventh when the caution flag waved for a spin in Turn 4 on lap 18, two laps before the scheduled competition caution was to wave. Annett told crew chief Mike Bumgarner that the handling of his Pilot Flying J Chevrolet was good all the way around the track. On the ensuing restart at lap 26, Annett resumed his chase for the top five, biding his time as the 45-lap Stage One continued to unwind. With 10 laps remaining in the stage, Annett passed Riley Herbst for seventh and chased down JRM teammate Noah Gragson for sixth five laps later. The Iowa native held that position to the end of Stage One, banking five important points in the process. Once pit lane opened, Annett came to the attention of the Pilot Flying J pit crew, who fitted his Chevrolet with four new tires and filled it with fuel for Stage Two. He would leave pit road in eighth place.
Stage Two Finish: 6th
Stage Two got under way at lap 53, and once again Annett started quickly. Rolling under the green flag in eighth position, Annett was battling for sixth when the caution waved for contact between Ty Dillon and Herbst. In the aftermath, Dillon’s car banged the side of Annett’s No. 1 but did no damage. Shortly after the race restarted, Annett was battling with Ryan Sieg for position when the latter had a flat tire off Turn 4 and spun into the infield. Annett was seventh at that point, and he stayed there for most of the rest of the stage. With five laps remaining, Annett won a battle with Gragson to take sixth place again and finished there for the second straight segment, adding five more stage points to his total for the day. When pit road opened, Bumgarner called him to the pits for four more tires and fuel, and the Pilot Flying J crew executed a quick stop to gain one position to fifth entering the final stage.
With the longest stint of the day ahead, Annett got right down to business when the green flag replaced the yellow on lap 97. Annett made up ground as the field swirled through the first few laps, finally ascending to fourth position at lap 100. Over the next 27 laps, Annett kept the No. 1 in the top five, battling with Harrison Burton and Justin Haley for position. As the so-far caution-free segment continued, the handling started to go away and Annett slipped to seventh at lap 135. Green-flag pit stops began over the next several laps, and Bumgarner called his driver to pit road at lap 148 for four tires and fuel. Losing a lap to the leaders, Annett returned to the fray in 15th position. As the rest of the lead pack came to pit road, Annett began to move back up the board, rejoining the top 10 on lap 151 and the lead serial on lap 154 when Haley finally came down for his stop. Sitting seventh at that point, Annett took sixth place at lap 156, setting the stage for the run to the finish.
Hanging on to Burton’s rear deck, Annett chased the young driver until Austin Cindric split the duo. Entering Turn 1, Cindric tapped Burton’s rear bumper and sent the young driver spinning. Annett quickly turned to the high side to miss the incident and moved into the top five once again. The ensuing yellow flag allowed Annett to pit for his last set of fresh tires at lap 176. Lining up for the restart, Dillon was the leader on old tires and Annett chose the opposite line to avoid a slow restart. It worked, as Dillon’s line stalled and Annett was able to move to fourth in the order. Dillon was involved in a crash and brought out the yellow again, setting up the final restart of the race with 13 laps remaining. Annett chose the top line and fired off sixth, passing Cindric for fifth the next time by but losing the spot on the following lap. Annett was unable to get back around and finished the race in sixth position. The top-10 result boosted Annett another six positions in driver points to 11th after four races.
AJ Allmendinger won the race, with Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Cindric and Gragson in the top five. Annett headed the second five, over JRM’s Josh Berry, Haley, Harrison Burton and Jeb Burton.
“It was a good solid run today for the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet, and a good day in the points for us after the bad luck we’ve had in that regard this season. We doubled up in stage points today, and that’s what we need to do, maximize the weekends. On the last restart, I should have taken the bottom, and I kind of feel like I gave away a top-five finish. It was a solid day all day, and Mike (crew chief Mike Bumgarner) says we can do this every week. We can do it every week. Thanks to the Pilot Flying J pit crew today, because they had great stops every time.” - Michael Annett