MOORESVILLE, N.C. (May 18, 2017) - One quarter of the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series racing season is in the books. Driver Michael Annett, who joined the JR Motorsports stable this year along with first-time crew chief Jason Stockert, have overcome a slow start to the season for the No. 5 Pilot Flying J team and rebounded with top-10 finishes in the last three races to sit sixth the in Xfinity Series point standings.
With the first of two weekends off in the books, Annett took stock of the first nine races and gave himself and his team a quarterly grade.
“I would give us a B-minus,” the Iowa native said. “Three weeks ago, I would have given us a C-minus. The way we have turned our season around here is what this team needed. You know we want wins and top-five finishes, but to get three top-10s in a row is a great sign of good things to come. This is a brand-new team to JR Motorsports, which has never run four full-time entries in the Xfinity Series.”
Stockert seizing upon Annett’s final point, said the development so far is promising.
“It's been a great start to the year for our team,” Stockert said. “JR Motorsports has never had a fourth full-time team before, and to be where we are at in the development of this brand new team is promising.”
One of the biggest aspects to putting a new team on the track is communication between the driver and the crew chief as well as the team as a whole. That communication takes time to develop.
“JR Motorsports is an established race team, but when you add an extra car and new team members to the organization, it is going to take some time for everyone to start to come together,” Annett said. “Between a driver and a crew chief, you just have to learn the language, what he is saying versus what I am saying.”
While this is not the first time that Annett and Stockert have teamed up together (Stockert was lead engineer when Annett was at Richard Petty Motorsports), it is the first time the duo has worked together as driver and crew chief.
“The shop has to get into a rhythm of building four cars, our team has to get to know each other and Michael has to get the feel of the ever-changing aero packages,” Stockert explained. “We have made a lot of positive progress so far this season.”
Like every race team at this level, there is always room for improvement. Both Stockert and Annett have ideas on what they need to do to move that process along.
“Our short-track performance has been our best, but Michael has been good at the superspeedways this year as well,” Stockert said. “Our intermediate-track program is where we need to make the most improvements as we move into the rest of the year.”
With every race counting towards the playoffs, every lap counts. Annett said he had some areas he needed to focus on to make the gains the team needs to move farther forward in the coming races. One of the biggest lessons Annett learned over the first nine races has to do with race pace, he said.
“The aggressiveness it takes to compete in this series is one area I’ve learned a lot about,” Annett said. “Obviously, our races are shorter, but I think the stages have changed it for everyone. Some teams have adapted quickly and have gotten a lot of those stage points that we have missed out on and that is one area where we need to put some additional focus.”
In the remaining races of the 2017 season, the common focus for the Pilot Flying J team is to continue making gains every week.
“In the past, I wasn’t sure how many fast cars we had on the hauler or at the shop, but I know now that we at JR Motorsports have a bunch of fast cars and that allows us to be more aggressive because if we tear one up, there is another fast one coming off the hauler,” Annett said. “We have to be more aggressive especially with how competitive our series is this year with the best drivers and equipment this series has seen in a long time.
Both Stockert and Annett know there is room for improvement and the No. 5 Pilot Flying J team is striving to improve every weekend.
“We have made a lot of positive progress with four top-10 finishes so far this year, and the team is gaining confidence, but there's always more work to be done,” Stockert said.