Coming to the conclusion of Saturday’s Unhinged 300 at Talladega Superspeedway, Michael Annett had the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet in position to contend for victory. A late red flag left just three laps of green-flag racing, and Annett was on the inside line, prepared to push teammate Jeb Burton and fight it out for victory. The bottom line broke apart, however, and all those plans went up in smoke. Despite being up front and contending for the lead all day, Annett finished 12th in the 11th NASCAR Xfinity Series event of the season.
Stage One Finish: 9th Drawing the No. 2 starting position for the 113-lap race on NASCAR’s biggest track, Annett stayed in the top three or so for the first two laps, nipping Justin Haley at the finish line to lead the third. Haley led the next time by, but Annett grabbed the top spot on lap 5 and held it to the competition caution at lap 10. Having had no practice before the race, Annett told crew chief Travis Mack that his car was a tick free on entry, but otherwise all good. On the restart, Annett gave up the top spot as the lines formed up and he eventually finished Stage One in ninth place, gaining two stage points in the process. The Iowa driver radioed that he needed the rear tires to be more in the track and a touch of lateral grip for the entry to the tri-oval. Mack called for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment, and sent Annett back out in 15th place. Several cars were on different strategies.
Stage Two Finish: 2nd When Stage Two got underway, Annett stayed in the top 15 as the field sorted itself out for the first several laps. The fifth time by the flag stand, Annett was 11th, and he rejoined the top 10 the next time by in seventh place. As the field bobbed and weaved around the 2.66-mile oval, Annett moved forward and back as the lines permitted. With five laps remaining in Stage Two, Annett had hooked up with JR Motorsports’ other cars and they began to rumble toward the front. Annett took fifth place on lap 47, and over the next four laps swept all the way up to second when the green-checkered flag waved. He still had issues with the entry to the tri-oval, so Mack called for right-side tires, fuel and another chassis adjustment. The fast stop allowed the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet to line up fourth for the final stage.
Final Stage: When the green flag waved to begin the 57-lap run to the checkered flag, all four JR Motorsports cars were together on the track, and Annett rode in second place behind teammate Noah Gragson until the caution flag waved at lap 77 for a crash in Turns 3 and 4. On the ensuing pit stop, Mack elected to do fuel only and sent his driver back out in sixth position. The race restarted at lap 80, and Annett was fifth on the initial green, but fell to seventh in the pack a couple of laps later.
Taking sixth position on the high line, Annett was content to let the laps click past in the pack, waiting for the end to make his moves with his teammates. With 17 laps remaining, a huge crash developed entering Turn 1 behind Annett, and that brought out the red flag for clean-up. Once the track was clear, the field returned to green-flag racing with just 14 to go. On lap 104, the yellow would come out again, this time for a crash involving Annett, Gragson and teammate Justin Allgaier. A car checked up ahead of Allgaier, who had Annett on his bumper and a whole pack of cars behind him. Annett dodged the spinning cars ahead and kissed the outside wall with the right side of the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet, but there was no discernable damage to the Camaro.
That brought out a second red flag for clean-up, and there were just three laps remaining when the field took the green for the final time. Annett was in line behind Burton, the leader, and raced in the top six until the bottom line broke apart and he dropped to 12th. With his finish, Annett moved up a spot to ninth in series points and in the playoff standings, 46 markers above the cut line after 11 races.
“The bottom line all day was good for two or three laps before the top got formed up, and that seemed to be the way that we needed to go there at the end. We tried to keep pushing Jeb (Burton) forward and the line got broken up. We had such a good Pilot Flying J Chevrolet today. It was fast, and we led laps, so we’ll take that with us to Pocono next week and put it to good use.” - Michael Annett