Michael Annett made it through three different accidents on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, but ended the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 in 11th place after being caught in a fourth on the last of 120 laps. Annett, who won this NASCAR Xfinity Series race a year ago, was running sixth as the field flowed off Turn 2 but an aggressive push from Brandon Brown turned his No. 1 Pilot Flying J/American Heart Association Chevrolet head-on into the outside wall and brought out the caution flag that ended the race. It also gave JR Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson his first victory in the series, the seventh for the team at the 2.5-mile superspeedway and the third consecutive triumph in the season opener.
Stage One Finish: 2nd Annett put his No. 1 Pilot Flying J/American Heart Association Chevrolet in second spot after qualifying just behind polesitter Myatt Snider and ran in the top five for the first 13 laps before the draft got figured out. With 12 laps remaining in the 30-lap Stage One, Annett hooked up with JRM teammates Justin Allgaier and Gragson and the trio was moving forward when the caution waved for debris on the backstretch. At that point, both Allgaier and Gragson came to pit road, but crew chief Travis Mack elected to keep Annett on the track in an attempt to win the first stage of the season. Restarting third, Annett used the draft to stay in the mix and battled with another JRM teammate, Jeb Burton, for the top spot at the green-checkered.
Annett finished the stage in second place just behind Burton, earning nine extra points for his effort and telling Mack that he did everything he could to win it, but couldn’t get a push at the right time to do so. Mack called him to pit road on the break for four tires and fuel with no adjustments, and he lined up ninth for Stage Two.
Stage Two Finish: 11th Annett resumed his pursuit of the leaders when Stage Two went green and was running 10th on lap 38 when contact at the top of Turn 1 shot his Pilot Flying J Chevrolet down the track in the middle of a huge pack of cars. Annett slid down onto the apron and back up through several cars, doing mostly cosmetic damage despite some contact. He was able to get the car re-fired and back to the pits, where Mack and the No. 1 team started in on the damage. The toe-in was off, but the bodywork was patched back together and despite a couple of stops, Annett hung onto the lead serial and returned to the track in 30th place.
At the green, Annett started moving forward again and in nine laps, he’d risen to 15th place. Eight laps later, when Stage Two ended, Annett was 11th. On pit road, Annett told Mack he needed the nose to work better. The crew changed four tires and freshened up the tape repairs while making a chassis adjustment to improve the battered Camaro’s handling for the run to the checkered flag.
Final Stage: Annett took the green in 25th place on lap 64 and despite the damage, cracked the top 10 seven laps later. On lap 82, Annett went back to pit road with his three JRM teammates for fuel only in a strategy play, hoping to ride together as the laps wound down, but Burton and Gragson got out two cars ahead of Annett and Allgaier. That set up a long period of dueling strategies. The three-car pack of Annett, Allgaier and Justin Haley ran in the middle of the top 20 until lap 100, when the cars on sequence hit pit road. That elevated the group into the top 10 with less than 20 laps remaining.
The good news was short-lived, however, as Allgaier came upon the aftermath of a spin in Turn 4 and slammed into the rear of a car moving slowly along the outside wall. Annett, trailing his teammate, narrowly missed both his teammate and the outside wall in squeezing through the aftermath. Mack called Annett to pit road under the caution to fit four tires and add fuel as well as trim up the body repairs and Annett started 14th on the restart. As the field reached Turn 3, Austin Cindric’s aggressive push sent Burton sideways and into the wall to bring out another caution, which turned into a red-flag stoppage when the majority of the field piled in. Annett was involved as well, but the damage was minimal to his machine despite more contact. That set up the final restart, when Brown gave the No. 1 Chevrolet a long, hard push off Turn 2 and ended Annett’s race half a lap before the checkered.
“We had a fast Pilot Flying J/American Heart Association Chevrolet today, and we had the speed to win here again, but we kept getting in the middle of all the action. I had a lot of fun today. I still don’t know what happened on the first incident, because it just turned left at the top of the corner. The second one, when Justin (Allgaier) hit the slow car at the top, I don’t know how I missed hitting him or the wall, but I did. We battled today, with all the damage, and we still had a chance to finish in the top five. Hats off to Travis (crew chief Travis Mack) and the No. 1 team today, because they worked hard and kept us in the game. Congrats to Noah and the No. 9 team on their first win. It’s a great feeling.” - Michael Annett