Playoff Push: Top-Five Finishes Key to Annett, No. 1 Team Advancing to NXS Finale

Ron Lemasters | 10/8/2019

Michael Annett News Pilot Flying J Playoffs XFINITY Series

Michael Annett is through to the Round of 8 and now has his eyes set on consistency paying off in getting him to the Championship 4.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 8, 2019) – A few weeks ago, crew chief Travis Mack said that stage points would be the key to his No. 1 Pilot Flying J team at JR Motorsports advancing from the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, and they were.

Mack also said that advancing out of the Round of 8 to battle for the championship in the season’s final race would require winning a race. Driver Michael Annett said a race victory might not be 100-percent necessary, but it sure would help.

Annett is seventh in the playoff standings entering the Round of 8 next weekend at Kansas Speedway after holding off a determined challenge from John Hunter Nemechek last week at Dover, sitting four points up on JRM teammate Noah Gragson as the next round begins. There is a sizable gap between seventh and first in terms of bonus points, Annett said, and that will be the biggest obstacle to making it into the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.

“It’s going to be really tough, looking at those top three guys (in the standings) and the number of bonus points they’ve accumulated,” he said. “Realistically, you’re looking at one spot that the rest of us are fighting for to get to Homestead. Without the 22 (Austin Cindric) or Justin (Allgaier) having issues, it’s going to be hard to out-point people. The field is so tight. You can make one or two points here and there and that’s about it.

“I think winning is, obviously, the easiest way to do it. I don’t think you have to win, but you have to be at least competing for a win or otherwise you’re not going to accumulate enough points. You have to be a legitimate contender for a race win or you’re not going to get in.”

The next two tracks on the schedule are Kansas and Texas Motor Speedway, where Annett finished sixth earlier this year. In seven races so far this season on 1.5-mile tracks, Annett has averaged a seventh-place finish, three of them in the top five (third at Chicagoland, fourth at Kentucky and fifth in the spring race at Las Vegas). Chicagoland is a virtual twin to Kansas, which leads to some confidence that the race there can be an opportunity to make up ground.

“Going off the history, getting a top-six the last time we were at Texas obviously leaves you with a good feeling about going back, but Kansas and Texas are both 1.5-mile tracks, and our best speed has been at tracks like that,” Annett said. “Any place where you had a top-six the last time you were there, obviously you’re going to look forward to going back.”

The varied nature of the first three playoff races was bound to present challenges to the entire field, Annett said, but getting through meant a better grouping going forward.

“I knew if we got through the Round of 12, with Richmond being a short track where anything can happen, the Roval that we knew was going to be a big test and Dover, another track where anything can just jump out and bite you, these are the tracks we have the most confidence at from the perspective of putting the whole weekend together...practice, qualifying and the race,” he said. “My confidence is at a high on 1.5-mile tracks right now.”

The No. 1 team’s outlook is decidedly strong these days, Annett said, but there’s always room for improvement.

“I definitely think the team is hitting on cylinders, but there are some things I need to get better at,” he said. “Qualifying in the top five rather than the top 10 is going to be key. Having a good performance in the stages starts with having a good qualifying effort, and getting five to 10 stage points in the first one sets you up for the next two. On my end, I have to qualify a couple of spots better and there’s always improvement to be made on restarts.”

Stage points, which Annett earned in four of the six stages in the Round of 12, were the key to advancement. Annett said he’ll have to score even more to get past the Round of 8.

“In the Round of 12, yeah, we needed to get stage points in each one and we’d be fine. Now, in the Round of 8 and coming down to four, I think you need to get at least five (points) each stage and I’m not sure that’s going to be enough,” he said. “You have to assume that the guy you’re fighting to get to Homestead is going to get eight or 10 in each stage, and in that instance five isn’t going to be good enough. It’s probably going to come down to a tiebreaker situation when we leave Phoenix. You want to say, ‘yeah, we need to go out and get a race win,’ but to do that you’re going to have to beat the 20, the 00 and the 2, which has proven to be a bit difficult.”

Entering the next phase of the playoffs, Annett hit a significant statistical milestone following the race at Dover. His sixth-place finish was the 17th top-10 results of the season for him and the No. 1 team, and that equaled his career high set in 2012. His six top-five finishes this year are one short of a career high in that category, which again came in 2012.

“That was a great year, and I didn’t realize we had that many in 2012,” Annett said. “You enjoy that stat, but I am more focused on the top-five stat, because at this point in the season, top-10s are just not going to be good enough. It’s going to be about top-five finishes. I’m really putting all the little stuff aside right now because it’s not going to be good enough.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • November 2 08:30 PM ET
    O'Reilly Auto Parts 300Texas Motor Speedway
  • November 9 03:30 PM ET
    Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200ISM Raceway
  • November 16 03:30 PM ET
    Ford EcoBoost 300Homestead-Miami Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Kansas Lottery 300

Kansas Speedway | 10/19/2019
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Christopher Bell (P)31060
2Cole Custer (P)3095-11
3Tyler Reddick (P)3094-12
4Justin Allgaier (P)3059-47
5Chase Briscoe # (P)3057-49
6Michael Annett (P)3047-59
7Noah Gragson # (P)3042-64
8Austin Cindric (P)3029-77