Michael Annett and the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet team battled for all 200 laps of Saturday’s LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway, ending the day with a 17th-place finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series event on the 1-mile desert oval. A persistent loose condition on the tight confines of the Phoenix track played havoc with moving forward most of the day.
Stage One Finish: 21st After qualifying 26th for the first short-oval race of the season, Annett had a big job ahead of him to make up positions on the Phoenix layout, where the season championship will be decided in the fall. Crew chief Travis Mack reminded his driver to be patient and let the car come to him as the 45-lap Stage One played out. At the initial green flag, Annett moved up three spots, and had gotten two more by lap eight, but the handle was far from secure. On that lap, Annett brushed the wall off Turn 2 and did so again the following lap before getting straightened out.
The Iowa native cracked the top 20 on lap 18 and stayed there until a caution flag waved at lap 33. Mack kept Annett on the track during the caution period, and Annett told his team that he needed lateral grip to have something to lean on in the sweeping corners. When green-flag racing resumed, Annett fell to 22nd following the initial laps and rallied to end the stage in 21st position. On the pit stop, Mack took a big swing and gave his driver four tires and fuel, adjusted the wedge and track bar and made an air pressure adjustment.
Stage Two Finish: 15th Starting Stage Two from 18th position, Annett needed just four laps to gain two spots to 16th and began chasing the top 15. He passed Myatt Snider for 15th on lap 70, only to give the position back nine laps later. The caution flag waved on lap 85 for a multi-car crash, and Mack brought Annett back to pit road for more tires and fuel, plus an adjustment to the air pressures. Just prior to coming down for the stop, Annett said the car had taken off better and had a better feel to it. Restarting from 19th after the stop, Annett gained four positions to finish Stage Two in 15th position.
Final Stage: Needing to reach lap 125 to be inside the fuel window to the end, Annett began the final 101 laps from 12th position and stayed there for the first 12 laps of the run before falling back to 15th. That’s where Annett was at lap 125 when the pit window opened and where he was on lap 129 when the caution waved again for a crash in Turn 4. Annett told Mack that he needed to sacrifice some rear grip for more front turn. On his stop, Annett got his last set of Goodyear tires, fuel to the end and a track-bar adjustment to accomplish that. Firing off from 18th position, Annett was on the move forward when another crash happened in front of him. That put him 14th by the time the cleanup was finished. Another caution waved on the restart, so most of the rest of the field made their stops at that time.
Annett was originally slotted 10th in the rundown, but after review, Brad Keselowski was elevated to the 10th spot despite being involved in the accident which brought out the caution flag. When the green flag waved again at lap 153, Annett got caught in a scrum in the mid-pack and fell to 13th the first time past the flag stand and dropped six spots the lap after to run 19th. Over the final 45 laps, Annett ran as high as 16th before eventually settling into 17th for the finish. After four races, Annett is 10th in series points and trails the leader by 57 points.
“We knew we were going to have to play the long game today after qualifying, and we did a good job of that. I just didn’t have enough security in the rear to move forward, and the balance we had to strike to gain speed meant we were chasing the handle most of the race. We’ll study what happened today and bring a really fast Pilot Flying J Chevrolet back in November. Until then, it’s on to Atlanta next weekend.” - Michael Annett