Michael Annett earned his best finish of the 2020 season in its final race on Saturday at Phoenix Raceway, putting his No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet fourth at the finish of the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. It was his fourth top-five finish of the season and fifth consecutive in the top 10, which ran his season-best total in the latter to 22, bettering last year’s previous best by three. The fourth-place result also moved him up to ninth in the final point standings.
Stage One Finish: Starting 10th following the application of NASCAR’s mathematical formula that determines the lineup each week, Annett wasted little time moving forward. The Iowa native needed just eight laps to reach eighth position and rode there until the competition caution waved at lap 20. Annett told crew chief Travis Mack that his No. 1 Chevrolet was really good in Turns 1 and 2, but had trouble getting back to the gas at the other end of the track. Staying out during this caution, Annett jumped to seventh just two laps after the green flag waved again.
The yellow waved right after that for a four-car pileup in Turn 2, and on the ensuing restart, Annett lost two spots in the mad run down to Turns 1 and 2, but immediately reclaimed seventh the next lap around. With four laps to go in the 45-lap Stage One, Annett picked up sixth place and held it to the finish. Annett told Mack at the end of the stage that he was trending tight in the center of the corners and could not get back to the gas as soon as he would like. Mack called for four tires, fuel, an air-pressure adjustment and a small chassis adjustment, sending his driver back out for Stage Two in eighth position.
Stage Two Finish: Choosing the low line for the restart, Annett sent his Chevrolet Camaro into Turn 1 and emerged in the top five the next time past the flag stand. The following lap, Annett took fourth place on the same low line before giving the spot up on the next circuit. Annett would stay fifth until lap 68, when the tight condition returned to his Pilot Flying J machine. When the yellow flag waved again at lap 76 for possible fluid on the track, Annett told Mack that his right front tire was chattering badly in the corners. The cleanup took a while, and Annett was able to cool the front tires for the 10-lap run to the green-and-white checkered flag.
Firing off from sixth, Annett advanced to fifth early on in the run, giving up the position to JR Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson with four laps remaining in the stage and finishing there at lap 90. On pit road, Mack bolted on four more tires, added fuel and made air-pressure and chassis adjustments to even out his driver’s handling. He would leave pit road in eighth position.
Final Stage: Once the green flag waved again, Annett immediately took seventh place and battled with Harrison Burton until the latter got past at lap 109. As the run wore on, Annett ran into handling issues and lost a position to Ross Chastain a few laps later, telling Mack that he had gotten very tight back to the gas. Running ninth, Annett managed his handle as cars continued to fall off the lead lap. By lap 151, just 11 cars remained on the lead serial with green-flag pit stops on the horizon. Once the stops got under way, Annett stayed out, rising to sixth at lap 162 and all the way to second at lap 171 when the caution waved again. That allowed him to come to pit road for fresh tires, and just in time, as the right front had been worn to the cords.
After changing four tires and adding fuel with a couple of adjustments, Annett returned to the track in fourth position. He would stay there as the championship battle raged just ahead of him. The caution flag would waved again at lap 197 for a spinning Chase Briscoe. With one set of tires still in the pits, Mack called Annett back to pit road to put them on with fuel and an air-pressure adjustment. Lining up sixth for the restart, Annett made another charge and got back up to fourth by the time the checkered flag waved.
“What a way to end the season. That was a good run to end the season and that means we can go right into making it even better for 2021 with Pilot Flying J and JR Motorsports. A top-five finish in the last race gives us a good jump-off point, and I can’t thank my guys enough on this No. 1 team. Travis Mack, the entire team, Jason Jarrett...all of them did such a great job all year.” - Michael Annett