Season In Review: In a Start-and-Stop 2020, Annett, No. 1 Team Fast and Consistent Again

Ron Lemasters | 11/19/2020

Allstate Parts Michael Annett NASCAR Xfinity News Pilot Flying J TMC

A year after earning his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory, pole and a record number of top-10 finishes, Michael Annett and the No. 1 Pilot Flying J team continued that upward trend in pandemic-wracked 2020 season.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 19, 2020) – A year after earning his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory and pole position as well as a record number of top-10 finishes in 2019, Michael Annett and the No. 1 Pilot Flying J team at JR Motorsports continued the trend of improvement in the pandemic-wracked 2020 season.

The 34-year-old Iowa native drove the No. 1 Chevrolet to a personal-best 22 top-10 finishes, three more than the 19 he posted in a breakout 2019 season in which he earned his first NXS victory at Daytona International Speedway and his first career pole position at Talladega Superspeedway. He also added four more top-five results including a fourth-place run in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, his best finish of the season.

In his fourth season with JRM, Annett has piled up some solid numbers over the last two after being paired with crew chief Travis Mack. His 41 top-10 finishes in that span comprise nearly half his career total of 85 in nine full seasons in the NXS. In terms of laps led, Annett has paced 131 laps over the past two seasons.

Consistency was the key for Annett in 2020, which saw him make the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

“The big thing was consistency,” Annett said. “We had two long stretches of top-10 finishes and that’s a testament to taking care of equipment and the preparation of the cars. The engines from Hendrick Motorsports had no mechanical failures on the year and that’s huge.

“We were always there, but we were off just a bit to get us into the top five. We’d much rather be rattling off a string of top-fives and being in the mix on those late-race restarts and fighting for wins, and that’s the frustrating part. We definitely saw an upswing in momentum at the end of the season and that’s going to carry us through the offseason.”

After earning just one top-10 finish in the first four races of the season—a seventh-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway—the sport was shut down for more than two months by the COVID-19 outbreak. When racing returned at Darlington Raceway in May, Annett was in position for a top-five result when he spun in Turn 4 just 14 laps from the finish.

Top-10 runs at Charlotte Motor Speedway and in the first of twin races at Homestead-Miami Speedway in June led to Talladega, where Annett has had some success. After leading 11 laps on one of NASCAR’s biggest tracks, Annett and the rest of the JRM cars were together on the track for the run to the finish when a chain-reaction crash exploded in the tri-oval. Annett was able to escape the carnage and remain in the hunt. After a red-flag period, Annett lined up behind teammate Jeb Burton on the bottom line and pushed Burton forward, but the bottom line broke apart over three laps and he finished 12th.

That was an unlikely turning point for Annett, Mack and the rest of the No. 1 team. Races at restrictor-plate tracks had always been good for Annett, and with the way the schedule came together, there was an additional chance to shine.

Over the next seven races, Annett logged three top-five and seven top-10 finishes to put the team on an upward trajectory in the points. Fifth-place runs at Pocono, Kentucky and Texas led the way. It could have been eight top-10 finishes in a row but for a broken driveline in the final chicane on the road course at Daytona while running eighth. Annett brought the wounded Camaro home in 15th despite the damage.

A six-race run of top-10 finishes followed, and Annett had a chance to earn his way into the playoffs with a victory at Daytona in August. Riding third heading to the checkered flag, Annett was on the high side when the leaders tangled in Turns 3 and 4. Taking evasive action to miss the spinning cars, Annett ran out of room and hit the wall and the spinning leaders, allowing Justin Haley to squeeze past for the victory. Annett kept his foot in the gas and drove his damaged car to seventh position at the flag. Two races later, Annett finished seventh in the first of two races at Richmond Raceway to lock himself into the 12-car playoff field.

In the final regular-season race at Bristol, Annett had run in the top 10 all night long and was in the top five with a fast Pilot Flying J Chevrolet when a lapped car clipped his left rear, sending Annett hard into the wall. The damage to the suspension ended his night. Following the event, Annett said he had a car that could have won the race.

In the playoff opener, Annett was a solid seventh, in good shape to advance to the Round of 8 after a single race. The following week at Talladega, Annett was again at the front of the field as the race came down to the end. Running 17th with five laps remaining, Annett pushed the bottom line past the dominant top lane and emerged behind Haley to finish second. In post-race inspection, however, NASCAR deemed the No. 1 Chevrolet was too low and Annett was disqualified, relegating him to 37th.

That success at Daytona and Talladega bodes well for 2021, Annett said.

“Not only were we in a position to win those plate races, each race was different in terms of strategy and where we were,” he said. “The exciting thing for me is we fought some little things in all of those races, but you could always rely on the power you’re going to have in whatever situation you get put in. When we got to Talladega, we tried some new things that we never had, and we had the most drivable car that we ever had there.

“To put all that together...we always knew we had fast cars, but we were never stable enough to get the big push at the end of the race and it would get us caught up in wrecks that were out of our control. I felt like, leaving Talladega, we have a notebook of everything we need to put ourselves in position like we did this last year, and the confidence in my head is higher than ever going into Daytona this coming season.” 

The disqualification—which cost the team a ton of points--put Annett into must-win mode the following week on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In a rain-soaked event, Annett had to overcome a 38-point deficit to advance to the Round of 8. Though he finished ninth, Annett came up short and bowed out of playoff contention.

Over the final four races, Annett finished eighth at Kansas, sixth at Texas and eighth in the series’ return to Martinsville Speedway before ending 2020 with a fourth-place finish in the season finale at Phoenix. It was his best finish of the season. It was also the final race for Mack as crew chief, as the Kentucky native left to join a NASCAR Cup Series team for 2021.

That fourth-place run in the season-ending race gave Annett a good reference point from which to begin 2021.

“We definitely saved our best for last,” Annett said. “We saw that back in 2018, heading to 2019 with a lot of momentum and you could feel it all the way through the offseason. We were just itching to get to Daytona, and then we went there and won the race. The first two months of that (2019) season, we were pretty much on a roll, and that started with the end of the 2018 season. We wanted to get that ball rolling (for 2021) a little sooner, at Texas or maybe Martinsville, but to at least get that wick lit at Phoenix was huge. It will carry that excitement and just feed off it for the months we have between seasons.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

XFINITY Series Standings

After Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200*

Phoenix Raceway | 11/7/2020
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Austin Cindric (P)40400
2Justin Allgaier (P)4032-8
3Justin Haley (P)4029-11
4Chase Briscoe (P)4028-12
5Noah Gragson2306-1734
6Brandon Jones2273-1767
7Ross Chastain2270-1770
8Harrison Burton #2248-1792
9Michael Annett2202-1838