With five laps remaining in Saturday’s Ag-Pro 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, Michael Annett’s Pilot Flying J Chevrolet was 17th in line. Hooking up on the low line, Annett pushed forward to clear the dominant top line and wound up second behind eventual winner Justin Haley when the caution flag waved for an accident on the backstretch in the final lap. The good run was negated, however, when NASCAR officials declared Annett’s car to be too low in the front during post-race technical inspection and disqualified the team from the finish.
Had the results held up, Annett would have left Talladega just three points below the cut line to advance to the Round of 8 with his fourth top-five finish of the season and his 18th in the top 10 in 28 races, one short of tying his career high in top-10 results set last season. Instead, he unfortunately sits 12th in points, 38 below the cut line with just next week’s race at the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway left to run before the playoff field slims to eight.
Stage One Finish: Starting from the ninth position, Annett got a good launch from the bottom line and stayed put on the low groove for the first 13 laps, rising to fourth on the next circuit. Over the next 11 laps, the field went to the top and Annett was shuffled back through the line to 15th with two laps remaining in the 25-lap Stage One. He made up two positions before the green-checkered flag waved. Annett told crew chief Travis Mack the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet had good rear grip, but was getting tight later in the run. Mack called for four tires and fuel on the Stage One pit stop and sent his driver back out in 15th position.
Stage Two Finish: Stage Two began with Annett on the bottom line and the process from Stage One played out again. At the front, the leaders took the pack to the high line and strung it out, meaning that passing was in short supply. Annett tried several times to build the bottom line, but was unsuccessful. In the first 10 laps of Stage Two, Annett had fallen to 21st after being hung out along on the bottom. Still trying to make the bottom work, Annett was able to take advantage of a caution flag at lap 42 to improve his chances at scoring stage points. Pitting under caution at lap 44, Annett took four tires and fuel ahead of the lap-50 stage break. On the restart, Annett had to take evasive action to miss the spinning car of Ross Chastain as the latter nosed into the outside wall and came down the track. The incident brought out the red flag for cleanup, leaving just one lap to race for the stage win. Annett was able to move from 19th to 12th in that one circuit. Mack called Annett in for fuel only and sent his driver back out sixth in line for the final stage.
Final Stage: The final stage began brilliantly for Annett. By the end of the first lap, he had used his position in the high line to break into third place behind leader AJ Allmendinger and JRM teammate Noah Gragson. Staying in line, Annett held third until lap 75, when he peeled off with a group of leaders for pit road. Behind the group, an accident erupted, which caused NASCAR to close pit road. Annett was at the commitment line when the call was made, and he continued on to make his stop for fuel. NASCAR penalized Annett for pitting before pit road was open, which would put him at the tail of the field. Following the announcement, Annett returned to pit road for four tires and got in line in 28th position. On the restart at lap 83, Annett was 22nd, and he ran the low line in an attempt to make up positions. The yellow waved again at lap 93 for debris with Annett in 17th.
The green flag was then displayed at the conclusion of lap 95 with Annett holding 16th place, and Annett was once again pinned to the bottom with little help behind him. With 10 laps remaining, the bottom line started to rumble, and Annett was 11th at lap 104. Six laps later, Annett was in the bottom serial and moving forward, cracking the top 10. Over the next four laps, Annett powered to eighth, then sixth and emerged in second place as the field crossed under the white flag. Heading into Turn 3 on the final lap, pushing new leader Haley, a multi-car crash behind him brought out the caution, leaving Annett second at the finish line. Following post-race inspection, however, it was announced that the front end of the No. 1 Camaro measured too low, which resulted in the disqualification and a 37th-place finish.
“I tried for 110 laps to get the bottom line working, and finally, everybody bought in and went down to the bottom with me. I was getting frustrated because everyone wanted to side-draft off Turn 4, and they needed to stay on the bottom and lined up and keep our momentum up. I wanted to get that train going. We needed to win, because it was another race with no stage points. I was hoping we would come off Turn 4 with a chance to win, and I saw Noah (teammate Noah Gragson) coming and had a plan to pop out in front of him off Turn 4 and get pushed to the win. We really wanted the win, but these Pilot Flying J guys and everybody at Hendrick Engines and JR Motorsports, they don’t give up. We didn’t give up last week and we have one more round to get it done.” - Michael Annett