Keys to the Championship: No. 5 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet Team

Ron Lemasters | JR Motorsports | 2/7/2018

Michael Annett News Pilot Flying J

The Keys to the Championship series continues with Michael Annett and the No. 5 Pilot Flying J team.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 7, 2018) – What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, Jason Stockert had not been a crew chief in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Michael Annett had not competed in the series for three seasons and JR Motorsports had to build a full-on team capable of making the Playoffs from something resembling whole cloth. Fast forward 12 months, and the No. 5 Chevrolet team is in a much better place. Annett made the Playoffs with a consistent season, but bowed out after the initial round.

This year, getting to that point is the floor of what the team expects to do in terms of a season finish.

“Unless we’re at Homestead fighting for a championship, I don’t think we’ll be happy,” Annett said. “Last year, there were some things that we could have excuses for, but this year, I don’t think there’s any wiggle room, no excuses, to be had anymore. We have the people, the equipment, the notebook...everything is there for us to go after it.”

Stockert, fresh off a season working with fellow JRM crew chiefs Dave Elenz, Kevin Meendering and Jason Burdett, is equally bullish on the No. 5 team’s prospects for 2018. “We have a strong group of engineers this year, some experience coming over from the 9 car (Phillip Bell) to help our car get better and closer to what the group has been doing,” Stockert said. “At the end of last year and the beginning of this one, we added some people, and they are as strong or stronger than what we had last year.”

So, what are the keys to the 2018 NASAR Xfinity Series season championship for the No. 5 car at JRM?

A GOOD START: “It starts with us coming out in the first five or six races of the year proving that we are just as strong as we were when we made the Playoffs last year,” Stockert said. “We need to run in the top 10 more consistently, right out of the box, we need to come out and practice better and be more aggressive, make the right moves in the first half of the race to get the bonus points. We need to run on the track where we need to run to do that.”

In 2017, Annett and the No. 5 team ran better than they finished the first four races. A 14th-place finish at Daytona was not indicative of how well the team performed first time out, as Annett was running in the top seven prior to two major crashes, both of which he was swept up in. A ninth-place run at Phoenix in the fourth race of the season was the first of seven top-10 finishes for the team.

ENTHUSIASM: After beginning the season somewhat behind the eight-ball in terms of team continuity, the chance to start even with the other three teams in the building is a welcome one for Stockert, Annett and the rest.

“I think we’re way ahead of where we were last year,” Annett said. “Leading into January last year, we weren’t really sure who was going to be part of the team. This year we had that all put together in early December. Everybody got to know each other and we have really good people that have been around the sport for a long time. This year, that’s going to be more important than ever with the new NASCAR rules on how many people you can have at the track and working on the car. The people you have better be really good, and I think we have that. We have a really good plan, everyone is situated and everything is in place for us to have a hell of a season.”

ENGINEERING DEPTH: The arrival of engineers Phillip Bell (race engineer, from the title-winning No. 9 team) and Maurice Hester add some experience to the No. 5 team, and that’s going to help a lot, Annett said.  “Honestly, talking with the team and seeing some of the changes and the people we brought on board this year, this is the most excited I have been going into a season,” the 31-year-old Iowan said. “Bringing Phillip over from the 9 car, he’s a really experienced engineer, knows the JRM way of thinking and understands the sim program. Maurice coming over, he has a bunch of knowledge and keeps learning every day. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing standing in front of us that will stand in the way of being a championship contender.”

PREDICTABLE ROUTINES: Having the team set is a definite advantage over 2017, and having the equipment at hand to improve is certainly a key for Stockert. In the somewhat-rushed run-up to last season, there were the inevitable gaps that come with building a team from ground up.

The addition of mechanics Richie Snyder and Brian Gainey for the full season will help as well.

“At the end of last year, we were pulling some people out of the shop or some people who had been on the road but weren’t consistently (to go to the track),” Stockert said. “Now we have a chance to get a more uniform group week to week and get the routines down better.”

Car chief Jonathan Davis led the effort to make sure that all the bases were covered for 2018, he said. “Jonathan and the team guys did a lot of work reorganizing stuff to try and make our lives easier at the track. Having all the equipment and being able to work on the things that we just had to deal with last year should make coming into the track every day and unloading and getting through tech better from that standpoint. It will allow us to concentrate on the new stuff NASCAR has implemented for this season.”

DEALING WITH THE NEW STUFF: Dealing with those changes—the new inspection system, new composite bodies and the roster program—are going to be key for any team running for the title, and both Stockert and Annett are pleased with the shape the team is in overall.

“The body situation will be taken care of organizationally,” Stockert said. “We all share notes, we’ll do the fixes and make sure we’re paying attention to what is different aero-wise the same as our teammates. As far as the pit crew stuff goes, we went down to pit practice last week. I think it’s going to be those guys staying calm and performing nice solid pit stops to start the year and working out the kinks and the bugs and the things that happen during a race weekend that you don’t necessarily see in practice.

“By the playoffs, that should all be worked out. The stops are slightly slower than they were, with the amount of people you have. They’ve done a lot of work on choreography and things like that, and there are going to be mistakes, but the group we saw was very solid and consistent.”

Annett said the new bodies weren’t going to affect the racing much, except maybe at Daytona and Talladega—the only tracks where steel bodies will be used this season. “There might be a few things we’ll see at superspeedways that changes [the racing] a little bit, but the new Hawkeye system, there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room there. It takes a lot of guesswork out of it and eliminates the gray areas.”

One area that Stockert and Annett have done a lot of work in is communication.

“We’ve put in place a process where we do more preparation,” Stockert said. “That includes me, Michael and the spotter, and we’re going to make sure we do a lot more of the prep work to make sure we’re all in tune a little better, what Michael can expect when the car comes off the trailer and even where we want to run on the track.”

 

Articles

image

XFINITY Series Schedule

  • February 24 02:00 PM ET
    Rinnai 250Atlanta Motor Speedway
  • March 3 04:00 PM ET
    Boyd Gaming 300Las Vegas Motor Speedway
  • March 10 04:00 PM ET
    DC Solar 200Phoenix International Raceway
  • March 17 05:00 PM ET
    NASCAR Xfinity Series at Auto ClubAuto Club Speedway
  • April 7 03:00 PM ET
    My Bariatric Solutions 300Texas Motor Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After PowerShares QQQ 300

Daytona International Speedway | 2/17/2018
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick #500
2Elliott Sadler41-9
3Spencer Gallagher39-11
4Ryan Truex35-15
5Ryan Reed34-16
6Kaz Grala #33-17
7Garrett Smithley32-18
22Justin Allgaier15-35
28Michael Annett5-45