Daytona Victory Brings Annett, Mack Full-Circle, With Hope for the Future

Ron Lemasters | 2/18/2019

Daytona Michael Annett News Pilot Flying J Travis Mack XFINITY Series

Saturday's breakthrough win by Michael Annett was a long time coming, but really started last summer when he was paired with crew chief Travis Mack.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 18, 2019) – When Michael Annett crossed the finish line, first car under the checkered flag, on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, it was the conclusion to a set of events that began midway through 2018.

Putting crew chief Travis Mack in charge of the Pilot Flying J team was the catalyst, and the combination lit the fuse that resulted in a monumental achievement for Annett, Mack, the No. 1 team and JR Motorsports.

Not only did JR Motorsports earn a second straight 1-2 finish in the season-opening race and fourth in six years, it was the second straight victory in the series (the other being Tyler Reddick’s title-clinching result last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway). But it was much more than that, really.

It was a soul-cleansing, spirit-wakening moment for driver and crew chief, for team owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller and the entire No. 1 Pilot Flying J/American Heart Association squad that celebrated in Victory Lane for the first time as a team.

The road to that victory—Annett’s first in the series and the first for the No. 1 team at JRM since 2016 at Kentucky Speedway—had been, in a word, rocky. A solid debut season in 2017, with a Playoff berth and an ascending arc of competitive finishes blended into a 2018 season that was long on promise and short on results. The team missed the Playoffs, led just nine laps all season and had three top-10 results, all coming in the final 14 races of the season...coincidentally, those 14 races were with Mack atop the pit box.

Earnhardt Jr., who celebrated in Victory Lane with his team as is his habit, had a lot to say about the pairing of Annett with Mack following the race.

“I represent Kelley, L.W. Miller and Rick Hendrick and a whole slew of other people that were behind Michael in this whole operation,” he said in the post-race interview. “Michael is not the same person that we hired, the guy that you'll see when he comes in from Victory Lane.  Obviously he's had a hell of a transition over the last hour, but he's changed a lot in the last several months that we've worked with him.”

It was a matter of perception, Earnhardt Jr. said of his driver.

“I imagine that when you drive and you're relegated to running in the back of the field, regardless of your efforts in and out of the car, it's got to be extremely frustrating, and you sort of get programmed to approach your job a certain way,” he said. “...We've had to try to convince Michael, I think, to change his approach and his mentality toward racing, encourage him to believe in his potential, and reignite his passion and enjoyment for driving and racing. That was a very challenging thing to do with anyone.”

Enter Mack, who had been Earnhardt Jr.’s car chief at Hendrick Motorsports before heading to Leavine Family Racing as a crew chief for Kasey Kahne. Midway through the season, Mack and the team parted ways, and the minute it happened, it got Earnhardt Jr. to thinking.

“When Travis became available, I thought as soon as I heard the news that he was available that we needed him to crew chief for Michael because I know Travis's mentality, his personality, his fire and his drive is exactly what would ignite Michael's passion and drive and desire,” he said. “I told T-Mack that if--he was sort of down about his situation, having been let go from his job as a crew chief of the 95 car, and I told him, think about what that would feel like to go to Victory Lane with Michael Annett and how that might make you feel as a person and as an individual and in your profession. They're realizing that dream, and it's so awesome to watch.  So I'm glad that I'm part of it, and this is a great, great day.”

Annett, for his part, was aware that Saturday’s victory was a watershed for him and his career, and he relished the opportunity.

“I’ve taken a lot of criticism for if I belong in this car the past couple of years, and the results...I earned that criticism and put a lot on myself,” he said. “This off-season, I just put everything I had into this team, into this car, into this upcoming season just to make sure there were no variables that we can control and didn't. I just didn't want to pull out of the tunnel and think, ‘man, if I would have done this maybe leading up to this weekend we would have had a better result,’ and I feel like we did everything we possibly could. 

“I know what Travis and the guys did at the shop, I've never seen so much work go into a speedway car, and I don't think it has a scratch on it, to be honest with you, so that's pretty exciting going to Talladega.”

After finishing the season with Mack on the box and a new feeling in the team, Annett went to Daytona with a fresh outlook and restored confidence. Racing was fun again, and he dared to visualize what it would mean to win at the World Center of Speed.

”To come back this weekend after the year we had and to start it the way we did, there's just been a really good aura around this 1 team,” he said. “Now it's the 1 team. That was awesome. Just everything is going in the right direction. I had a really good feeling sitting in the drivers' meeting today staring at the trophy, like ‘man, that's going home with us.’  I really felt that way.

“It's awesome, and I keep going back to not only Dale and Kelley and L.W. sticking with me through these past couple years, and then T-Mack coming on board and jumping right in and turning this program around has been awesome to see.”

Mack said that Annett has always had the talent to run well and win races, and just needed the right group of people to do it with.

“Oh, you know, he wants to run good so bad,” Mack said. “He just needs the people around him to believe in him, like we have. Just coming in with that mentality that we're not going to accept running fifth or 10th or 15th.  That's not acceptable to me. We're pushing the team to get better. They can feel the sense of urgency and the improvements that we're making.  You know, it's a feeling in the shop.  Everybody is looking at us.  I told them in the garage, I want all the teams to look at our team and look at us and say that that's the best team out here.

“We're working towards that goal.”

Following their triumph on Saturday at Daytona, that goal is within reach. Sure, there are 32 races over the next 10 months, all to be contested against teams and drivers who have the very same goal. But for now, at this moment, the best team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series wears the No. 1, is driven by Michael Annett and Travis Mack is the crew chief.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • March 30 01:00 PM ET
    My Bariatric Solutions 300Texas Motor Speedway
  • April 6 01:00 PM ET
    Alsco 300 at BristolBristol Motor Speedway
  • April 12 07:00 PM ET
    ToyotaCare 250Richmond Raceway
  • April 27 01:00 PM ET
    MoneyLion 300Talladega Superspeedway
  • May 4 01:30 PM ET
    Xfinity Series at DoverDover International Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Production Alliance Group 300

Auto Club Speedway | 3/16/2019
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick2200
2Cole Custer213-7
3Christopher Bell206-14
4Brandon Jones183-37
5Austin Cindric179-41
6Michael Annett178-42
7Justin Allgaier171-49
8Noah Gragson #161-59