Michael Annett and the No. 1 Pilot Flying J/Call of Duty Endowment Chevrolet team were in position to earn a spot in the Championship 4 in the owner’s portion of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs on Saturday at Martinsville Speedway when he was swept up in a crash on a lap-192 restart. The resulting damage from the Turn 2 accident brought an untimely end to Annett’s night, relegating the JR Motorsports driver to 38th place. Stage One Finish: 8th Annett began Saturday’s race from the sixth position after the No. 1 Pilot Flying J/Call of Duty Endowment Chevrolet was slotted there following NASCAR’s application of its mathematical formula to determine the starting lineup earlier in the week. On the initial start, Annett began losing positions and radioed to crew chief Mike Bumgarner that the right rear tire on his Pilot Flying J/Call of Duty Endowment Chevrolet was chattering on entry to the corners, which killed his exit speed. The handling issue dropped Annett seven positions to 13th over the first 10 laps. With the competition caution scheduled for lap 25, Bumgarner told Annett to stay out and he would address the issue then. A caution flag pushed the competition stoppage to lap 30, but Annett did not want to give up the track position on the tight Virginia short track, so he made adjustments on the track. After another caution period, the handle started to stabilize and Annett began to move forward with 20 laps remaining in the 60-lap Stage One. Taking 11th position at lap 41, Annett entered the top 10 seven circuits later, just as a caution flag waved. The slowdown sent a few of the cars ahead of him to the pits, and Annett moved up to seventh place as the early stops cycled through. The green flag waved with eight laps remaining in Stage One and Annett held onto seventh until the final two turns, when JRM teammate Noah Gragson got around and dropped him to eighth as the green-and-white checkered flag waved to end the stage. The result earned Annett and the No. 1 team three valuable stage points for the night. Finally coming to pit road following the stage, Annett received four fresh tires, fuel and a bevy of chassis adjustments to help the handling on the No. 1 machine. The pit crew held serve for Annett among the cars that pitted on the stage break and the Iowa native returned to the track in 23rd position for the start of Stage Two. Stage Two Finish: 15th As the 60-lap Stage Two got under way, Annett was bogged down in the field on the tight 0.526-mile oval, needing 12 laps to return to the top 20 in the order. He slowly began working up the order as the laps wound down, telling Bumgarner that the rear drive was much better but the left front was not helping get his Pilot Flying J/Call of Duty Endowment Chevrolet through the tight corners. At lap 102, Annett passed Josh Berry for 16th and added one more position to 15th before Stage Two ended at lap 120. On pit road again for help, Annett took four more tires, fuel and a couple more adjustments to dial in his Camaro for the final segment. The Pilot Flying J pit crew gained three positions for Annett with a quick stop and returned him to the track in 12th. Final Stage: Firing off 11th for the final segment, Annett finally had the car he needed and began to make noise on track. In just five laps, Annett was back in the top 10 after passing Championship 4 contender Daniel Hemric for that spot at lap 136. Hemric returned the favor eight laps later, dropping Annett back to 11th. Annett would stay in the top 11 through a caution flag at lap 150, but moved into ninth place at lap 163 with a nifty move. Five laps later, Annett moved up to eighth and was maintaining that spot as the laps wound away. The caution flag waved again at lap 179 for a spinning car in Turn 2, prompting Bumgarner to call his driver to pit road for four tires, fuel and another adjustment. The pit crew again maintained position on the stop, and Annett would start from 10th on the next green flag. One car stayed out and would lead the field to green on old tires, and that stacked up the restart, allowing Annett to pick up two positions. Another caution waved at lap 186 for another two-car crash, setting up yet another restart. Staying on the track, Annett lined up seventh on the bottom row for the restart. As the field entered Turn 2, the slower car on old tires had backed up the top line, which caused some cars behind Annett to try and move past that slower car in Turn 2. Annett, running on the bottom, was caught in the aftermath when three cars collided, sending one of them into the right rear quarterpanel of Annett’s Pilot Flying J/Call of Duty Endowment Chevrolet. That turned Annett toward the outside wall, which he hit at a good clip. The resulting damage broke the radiator and ended Annett’s night. He would eventually finish 38th. The finish ended the No. 1 team’s quest for the Championship 4 in the owner’s championship one race short of the goal. Gragson won the race in a thrilling last-lap duel over Austin Cindric, with Hemric, JRM’s Sam Mayer and Justin Allgaier the rest of the top five. Brandon Jones led the second five, with AJ Allmendinger, Alex Labbe, Jeremy Clements and Riley Herbst the remainder of the top 10.
“On that restart, one of the cars ahead was on old tires and that made everybody try to get past as early as they could. I was on the bottom and clear of all that, but I got tagged and spun. The contact broke the radiator. It’s a shame, because our Pilot Flying J/Call of Duty Endowment Chevrolet was in the top eight and we had a chance to make it to Phoenix for the owner’s championship.” - Michael Annett