Michael Annett and the Pilot Flying J team rallied in the final stage of the rain-delayed Cook Out 250 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines on Sunday afternoon, earning a 10th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway. It was the second consecutive top-10 finish for the Iowa native and his third in seven races so far this season. Stage One Finish: 28th Annett rolled off from 10th position on Friday night and started to move up immediately. He was eighth after two laps, but began to develop a tight condition in the front end of his Pilot Flying J Chevrolet. After dropping back to 13th on a restart early in the 60-lap Stage One, Annett reported to crew chief Mike Bumgarner that he had good forward drive but his car was tight in the corners. At the competition caution at lap 25, the condition worsened, as the car had picked up a chatter in the right front that did not allow him to free-roll the turns. When the race resumed, Annett had re-entered the top 10 with a good restart and held that track position, rising as high as eighth for a restart on lap 48. Two laps later, entering Turn 1, Annett wheel-hopped on the inside line and spun, bringing out the yellow flag with 10 laps remaining in the stage. That dropped him to 37th in the running order, and Bumgarner called him to pit road for tires and an adjustment to help his handling issues. Following the stop, Annett restarted from 35th position with five laps remaining until the green-and-white checkered flag would wave to end the stage. He gained seven positions in that span to end Stage One in 28th place. Since he stopped prior to the end of the stage, Annett would stay out for the beginning of Stage Two and rise to 10th in the running order. Stage Two Finish: 4th On the start of Stage Two, Annett grabbed ninth position on the initial break and would stay in the top 10 until lap 78, when the handling issues returned. The car was still free, and while Annett was able to maintain 11th place, the front end was not fully in the track. He was still 11th when the rains came and he took the red flag at lap 91 in 11th. The storm was enough to postpone the remainder of the race until Sunday afternoon. When the race resumed, this time under bright sunshine, Annett took the green flag from ninth position after moving up two spots thanks to the choose rule. The caution waved at lap 107 for a Josh Williams spin, and several cars took advantage of it to come to pit road. Annett stayed out and advanced to fifth for the restart at lap 113. With just seven laps remaining until the end of Stage Two, Annett was able to move up to fourth and finished there, earning seven valuable bonus points in doing so. Under caution, Annett told Bumgarner that his car took off better, but was loose at the three-quarter mark at both ends. Bumgarner responded with four tires and a pair of chassis adjustments designed to fix that problem, sending his driver back out in 24th position for the final stage, behind the cars that had pitted earlier. Final Stage: With 119 laps until the finish, Annett had his work cut out for him. Once the field was back under green, Annett began moving forward, gaining two positions on the first lap and five more over the next six to run 17th. Following a caution that further bunched the field, Annett was mired near the tail end of the top 20 but told Bumgarner that his Pilot Flying J Camaro was decent in all respects except for not being able to drive off the corners. Maintaining position near the back of the top 20, Annett climbed to 15th at lap 172, a few laps before a two-car crash in Turn 3 slowed the action once again. Under caution, Annett came to pit road for four tires and a wedge adjustment to help his entry and drive off. The caution jumbled the field, as most of the top runners hit pit road as well, leaving Annett in 22nd for the restart at lap 184. The changes immediately paid dividends, as Annett began to climb the order once again. He cracked the top 15 at lap 193 and was 14th with 50 laps remaining in the 250-lap race. A caution flag waved at lap 206 with Annett in 13th position. It would be the last stoppage of the day. Over the final 40 laps, Annett marched forward and got back into the top 10 with eight laps remaining by passing Jeb Burton. Annett would maintain that position to the checkered flag to post his second straight top-10 finish and third of the season. JR Motorsports teammate Josh Berry won the race, his first career triumph in the series, and also qualified for the next round of the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash. Teammate Noah Gragson was second and claimed the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus and will race for it again at Talladega. Daniel Hemric was third, with Ty Gibbs and Brandon Jones rounded out the top five. Austin Cindric was sixth, followed by Harrison Burton, Justin Haley, JRM’s Justin Allgaier and Annett.
“We had to fight pretty hard today, but we got another top-10 finish. Really happy for Josh (Berry) and the No. 8 team. That was a great race for them. We couldn’t keep the front end working until that last pit stop, and the adjustment that Mike (crew chief Mike Bumgarner) made allowed me to really hunt the bottom over that last stint. We definitely got the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet better, and it paid off.” - Michael Annett