Michael Annett returned to the cockpit of the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Spicy Chicken Sandwich Chevrolet on Saturday in the Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey 200 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines at Watkins Glen International, driving to an 11th-place finish just three weeks after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right leg. His return allowed the 35-year-old Iowan to maintain his position in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, as he currently has a 30-point advantage over the cut line. Stage One Finish: 14th Starting 18th after application of NASCAR’s mathematical formula to determine starting positions, Annett took the early laps to feel out the handling of his Pilot Flying J Spicy Chicken Sandwich Chevrolet. At the competition caution at lap 10, halfway through the 20-lap Stage One, Annett told crew chief Mike Bumgarner that he had good front turn but that he needed more lateral grip for the punishing corners on the 2.45-mile road course. Over the remaining 10 laps, Annett advanced four positions to 14th. On the ensuing pit stop, Annett took four fresh tires with air pressure adjustments and fuel for Stage Two, hoping to add the lateral grip he needed to advance. The Pilot Flying J pit crew returned to the track in 18th position. Stage Two Finish: 8th On the restart, Annett settled in 18th for the first couple of laps before turning up the wick and moving forward. He broke into the top 15 at lap 29 and was running there when the caution flag waved at lap 34. Annett told Bumgarner that he still needed lateral grip. On the restart, Annett made a bold move into Turn 1 from 12th place to gain a couple of spots and added two more positions by the end of lap 37 that put him into eighth place. He would hold there over the remaining three laps to earn three valuable stage points. After reiterating that his lateral grip was minimal, Annett came to pit road at lap 42 for four tires, fuel and a pair of chassis adjustments to help his lateral and returned to the track in 20th place for the final 42-lap segment. Final Stage: Firing off from 20th, Annett moved up four positions to 16th before the caution waved again at lap 49 for a crash in the Esses. Annett pitted with the rest of the field at that point, as it put the team at the extreme edge of its fuel window. The restart at lap 51 saw Annett take off from 16th position and begin to march forward again, taking 15th two laps later. Beginning at lap 55, Annett gained a position per lap through lap 57 to run 12th. In the seven laps that followed, Annett drove his way back into the top 10, and five laps later the caution waved again for a crash into Turn 6. At that point, Annett came to pit road for his final stop, taking four tires and fuel to the end. Taking the ensuing restart from 12th position, Annett worked his way to ninth in just two laps and maintained his position in 10th until the penultimate lap, when JR Motorsports teammate Sam Mayer edged him out for 10th-place at the finish line. The finish held Annett’s 11th-place position in the points and also ensured he maintained a solid lead in the race for the 12th and final playoff spot. Ty Gibbs won the race, with AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, JRM teammate Justin Allgaier and Harrison Burton in the top five. Brandon Jones headed the second five, with JRM teammate Noah Gragson, Jeb Burton, Justin Haley and Mayer in the top 10.
“It’s good to be back in the car, racing with all my guys on this No. 1 Pilot Flying J Spicy Chicken Sandwich Chevrolet. I love being here and love the passion they have. I gave up 10th at the end because I was trying something with him (Mayer). I didn’t have a lot of lateral grip today, so that wasn’t easy, but next week, we’ll get back after it.” - Michael Annett