Michael Annett earned his 12th top-10 finish in his last 13 races in Friday night’s Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway, coming on in the caution-free final segment to post a seventh-place finish in the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet. The bigger news, however, was that the Iowa native locked himself and his team into the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs with the result. Annett is the ninth driver to claim a spot in the seven-race postseason series that will decide the series champion.
Stage One Finish: Rolling from ninth place at the start of the 75-lap Stage One on the racy .750-mile oval, Annett sorted out the handling of his No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet over the first 14 laps before the caution flag waved for Colby Howard’s stricken car in Turn 4. Annett told crew chief Travis Mack that his Camaro took off really free late in the corner at each end of the track. Despite the trend, Annett grabbed eighth place on the restart and stayed in the top 10 until lap 39, one circuit prior to the competition caution. Sitting 11th, Annett told Mack that he lacked drive off the corners at both ends. Mack brought Annett down pit road for the first time, putting on a set of four Goodyear tires, adding fuel and making a chassis adjustment to help his driver out. Exiting pit road in 17th, Annett gained five spots in Turn 2 as several cars dodged a potential accident, leading to another caution period. When it went green again, Annett wasted little time putting the new tires to good use, advancing to 10th on lap 56, 19 laps from the end of the stage. Four laps later, he was sixth, and with 15 laps to go in the stage, advanced to the top five. He ran fifth until lap 74, when teammate Justin Allgaier passed him and put him sixth at the green-checkered flag, earning Annett five important bonus points toward the playoffs. On pit road, Annett got his second set of tires with an air-pressure adjustment and fuel, holding his position in the rundown. He would start Stage Two from sixth position.
Stage Two Finish: As the stage began, Annett continued to hold position in fifth, with Kyle Busch stalking him over the first 12 laps before getting past on lap 95. Annett stayed in the top eight until lap 143, when JRM teammate Noah Gragson got by to put Annett in ninth. One lap later, JRM’s Jeb Burton passed for ninth and Annett held off a charge from Chase Briscoe over the final five laps of the stage to earn another stage point, giving him six for the evening. Annett told Mack that he had no rear drive 10 laps into the 75-lap stint and that his Pilot Flying J machine was getting tighter quicker during the run. Mack took a big swing on the chassis adjustment during the pit stop at stage end, putting four more tires on and adding fuel. Mack warned Annett that the right front tire had corded during the long green-flag run. Annett left pit road in 11th place for the 100-lap final segment.
Final Stage: Once the green flag waved on lap 158, there would not be another caution period in the race, and Annett had just one set of tires in the pits for the 92-lap run to the checkered. Annett set a solid pace but took care of his tires. The Iowa native advanced back into the top 10 at lap 181 by passing Burton, and nine laps later passed Briscoe for ninth. As the lap counter clicked over to 200, Annett took the measure of JRM teammate Noah Gragson for the eighth position. Annett stayed eighth until lap 229, when he passed Kaz Grala for seventh, and he kept that spot until the checkered flag. It was Annett’s 12th top-10 finish in 13 races and 15th of the season, which puts him in position to better his single-season best of 19, set last year. It also put him into the playoffs on points, and he advanced to eighth in the standings, just one week after Brandon Jones had passed him following his win at Darlington.
“Clinching our spot in the playoffs is the big thing tonight, but we had a good run in our Pilot Flying J Chevrolet. Like everybody else, we struggled a little bit with drive off the corners, but Travis (crew chief Travis Mack) and our No. 1 team made good changes all night. The last segment ran caution-free and we had to maintain our pace for a long time. It paid off in the end, and we know we have a good hot rod for tomorrow’s race.” - Michael Annett