For the second straight week, Michael Annett’s chances of closing the gap in his effort to make the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs was derailed by virtue of contact with the outside wall midway through Stage One, as well as a cluster of late-race restarts in the closing laps of the afternoon. Annett, who was running on the cusp of the top 10 as the laps wound down in Saturday’s Go Bowling 250 at Richmond, was caught in a scramble over the final two restarts and dropped his No. 1 Pilot Flying J #ThankATrucker Chevrolet to 22nd at the finish of the race. That puts the Iowa native 66 points out of the final playoff spot with just next week’s event at Bristol Motor Speedway remaining in the regular season.
Stage One Finish: 15th
After a solid 14th-place finish last week at Darlington Raceway knocked 18 points off his deficit to 12th place, Annett started 10th on Saturday, thanks to NASCAR’s mathematical formula used to set the starting lineup earlier in the week. Once the initial green flag waved to start the race, Annett spent the first 15 laps working on the handling of his Pilot Flying J #ThankATrucker Chevrolet. Falling to 15th place in the first four laps, Annett steadily worked his way back to the cusp of the top 10 by the time the competition caution waved at lap 35. Annett told crew chief Mike Bumgarner that his entry was secure, but he had to be precise on the low line to get his Camaro pointed well off the corners. Bumgarner elected to stay out, opting to save a set of tires for later in the race. When the green flag replaced the yellow, Annett was in the top 10 and stayed in the top 11 until lap 53. On that lap, Annett was on the top side coming off Turn 2 with a crowd of cars to his inside. At the entry to Turn 3, Annett was forced up and into the wall, which did damage to the bodywork on his Camaro and caused a fender rub. Further contact on the left front damaged the fender and the splitter rail. The subsequent damage was affecting the handling of his Chevrolet and Annett dropped to 16th at the end of Stage One. Bumgarner called Annett to pit road for tires and fuel and got started on the body damage. Sending his driver back out, Bumgarner immediately called him in again for further damage repair, which put the Iowa native 32nd in the lineup for the beginning of Stage Two after he was assessed a speeding penalty on pit road.
Stage Two Finish: 20th
Near the rear of the field for the 75-lap stage, Annett worked on his handling and took his time, patiently working to get his Pilot Flying J #ThankATrucker back into racing form. Over the course of the next 30 laps, Annett got back to the top 25, and at lap 122, he was 22nd. Annett kept moving forward, finally cresting the top 20 with five laps remaining in the stage. He would finish there, having solved most of the handling issues caused by the body damage. Pitting again at lap 153, Annett asked that Bumgarner not affect his entry with any adjustment, having finally worked out what he needed. Bumgarner responded with four tires and fuel, and sent his driver back out for the final stage in 19th position after the Pilot Flying J pit crew pulled off a quick pit stop.
Staying in 19th, Annett worked to advance up the order. A caution flag at lap 170 saw one of the drivers ahead of him in line come to pit road, which boosted the 35-year-old to 18th. Annett was 20th when the next caution waved at lap 182 for a stopped car in Turn 4. That gave Bumgarner a chance to give his driver fresh tires for the run to the finish, and Annett came down pit road on lap 184 for four of them as well as fuel. The changes paid off immediately, as Annett was able to crack the top 15 in just nine laps. At lap 200, Annett ran 13th, sliding up to 12th two laps later, the highest he’d been since running ninth at lap 41. The caution flag waved again at lap 223 for a two-car incident in Turn 4, and Bumgarner called Annett back to pit road to bolt on a set of scuffed tires and make an adjustment for the final flurry. Returning to the track in 11th, Annett ran two laps before another caution flag came out, and once that was cleaned up, the field line up for another restart. Mired in heavy traffic, Annett dropped to 14th just in time for the final slowdown of the race at lap 238. The final green flag of the day came out with seven laps remaining, and the rush for finishing positions caught out Annett, who had started 14th. The field battled for position all over the track and in the process, Annett was shuffled out of the preferred grove over the remaining laps, sliding back to the 22nd position at the finish.
JR Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson won the race for the second straight week, topping Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier and Riley Herbst. Daniel Hemric, Ty Gibbs, Brandon Brown, Harrison Burton and Jeb Burton completed the top 10. The result leaves Annett 66 points behind Herbst for the final spot in the 12-driver playoffs with just next week’s race at Bristol remaining in the regular season.
“We have one more week to get this done, one more chance, so we need to take it. I just needed another set of tires for the Pilot Flying J #ThankATrucker Chevrolet. I liked the call that Bummy (Bumgarner) made at the end to come and get scuffs for the end, and I wouldn’t have changed it. We knew with the tires we were on, we didn’t have the speed to keep up with the newer sets, so scuffs made the most sense. We battle as a team, and we’ll be battling next week at Bristol. We have one more shot and we’re going to take it.” - Michael Annett