Michael Annett made a late charge in Saturday’s Henry 180 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines at Road America, running as high as second in the closing laps before finishing a season-best third in his No. 1 Allstate Peterbilt Group 50th Anniversary Chevrolet. It was his first top-five finish of the season and eighth in the top 10, as well as his second top-three finish in the past five races on the 4.048-mile road course. It’s also the first track at which Annett has a pair of podium finishes after he finished second at Road America in 2017. The third-place effort also made a difference in the race for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, as Annett now sits 66 points above the cut line for postseason racing.
Stage One Finish: 8th
After earning a 12th-place starting position in qualifying on Saturday morning, Annett made the most of the initial start of the race by passing Kaz Grala, Andy Lally and Jeremy Clements on the opening lap to move to ninth. The Iowa driver was 10th four laps later when the first caution of the day waved for a stopped car in the gravel trap at Turn 14. Over the remainder of the 10-lap Stage One, Annett would gain two positions to finish eighth, earning three valuable stage points and setting himself up for a solid day in the points. As most of the field came to pit road at the stage break, crew chief Mike Bumgarner kept Annett on track for strategic purposes. Annett lined up for the start of Stage Two in the sixth position.
Stage Two Finish: 17th
As Stage Two got under way, Annett dropped four positions on the opening lap as cars with fresher tires made their way forward. A quick caution waved at lap 14 for a crash involving JR Motorsports teammate Sam Mayer, and Bumgarner took the opportunity to call his driver down pit road for fuel and four tires. Under the earlier stage break, Annett had told Bumgarner that he was lacking lateral grip in the right-hand corners of Road America’s layout. Once service was completed, Annett returned to the track in 29th position with just five laps remaining in Stage Two. Over the final five circuits, Annett used his fresh tires to move up 12 positions to 17th by the time the green-and-white checkered flag waved to end the stage. Annett told Bumgarner that he was experiencing a tight condition at the top of Turn 6, which was hurting his drive off the corner. Once again, Bumgarner kept Annett on the track following the stage for track position and to make his fuel strategy work, as well as saving a set of tires for later in the race. As drivers ahead of him hit pit road—and one received a penalty--Annett advanced to sixth place for the start of the final stage.
When the green flag waved to start the final 25-lap segment, Annett dropped a couple of positions to ninth over the first lap and back to 15th after an off-course excursion at Turn 6 on the second. At lap 27, another caution waved for a big crash in Turn 1, and Bumgarner brought his driver to pit road for four more tires and a full tank of fuel, sending him back out in 22nd position with one set of tires remaining in the pit box. The new Goodyears enabled Annett to start to climb through the field, moving up two spots in the initial start and four more over the next lap to 16th. Over the next three circuits, Annett grabbed five more positions, two of them on a nifty move in Turn 12 that saw him pick off both Brandon Jones and Jeb Burton. Running 11th, Annett needed just one more lap to grab ninth place. At lap 36, the caution flag waved for a stopped car and that gave Bumgarner and Annett a chance to plan the remaining 10 laps. Figuring there would be more cautions over the remaining distance, Annett hit pit road for those tires and a splash of fuel to the end. On the ensuing restart, a massive 10-car crash saw several of the cars in the top serial collide around Annett, but the driver of the Allstate Peterbilt Group 50th Anniversary Camaro was untouched in the melee and had the advantage of fresher tires than the group around him.
On the final restart of the day, Annett fired off from 11th position, advancing two positions to ninth in the first lap of green-flag racing. Coming to the line with five laps to go, Annett was sixth and kept pressing, passing Harrison Burton for fifth and taking Justin Haley with a nice move into Turn 12 for fourth. On the following lap, Annett used Turn 12 to get past teammate Noah Gragson for third and passed AJ Allmendinger for second—again in Turn 12--behind leader Kyle Busch. Daniel Hemric also passed Allmendinger and over the final lap got around Annett to secure the runner-up spot.
In the end, Annett would take the checkered flag with a season-best third-place finish.
Busch won the race with a strong push on the final restart, with Hemric second and Annett third, followed by Allmendinger and Harrison Burton. Kevin Harvick, Riley Herbst, Austin Cindric, Gragson and Haley rounded out the top 10.
“One of the keys to today is that all the fenders are still on the Allstate Peterbilt Group 50th Anniversary Chevrolet and there’s not a whole lot of damage on it. Bummy (crew chief Mike Bumgarner) made a great strategy call and put tires on late in the race. You never know if the caution is going to come out or not, and I told him with 10 to go, we’re not going to have a long green-flag run. The 54 (race winner Kyle Busch) had a heck of a restart there at the end and then the 18 got me there at the end. I didn’t think our first top-five of the season would come at a road course, but we’ll take it and the momentum on to Atlanta next week.” - Michael Annett