Mid-Season Report Card: Michael Annett and the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Team

Ron Lemasters | 7/20/2021

Michael Annett Mike Bumgarner News Pilot Flying J XFINITY Series

A solid first half of the season has the No. 1 PFJ team aiming for a playoff as Michael Annett continues to recover from leg surgery.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 21, 2021) – Michael Annett, Mike Bumgarner and the No. 1 Pilot Flying J team at JR Motorsports are in good shape to advance to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in 2021 despite facing an uphill battle over the remaining seven races.

Rewinding to 2020, Annett had a breakout season in a couple of ways. First, the 35-year-old Iowa native reeled off 22 top-10 finishes in 33 starts despite a pandemic that slowed everybody down. That total was three better than his previous best, 19, set in 2019, which also included his season-opening victory at Daytona and five more top-five results.

This season, Annett hit his stride at just about the same juncture as in 2020, with one top-five and eight top-10 finishes through 17 races. At Road America, Annett drove a stellar race to log a third-place finish that could have been even better had a couple of things gone the other way.

Then came Atlanta and a major disruption.

A leg injury sustained while working out a few weeks prior began to nag Annett, who played through pain for three races in hopes of reaching the off-weekends set aside for the Tokyo Olympics. The pain level came to a head just prior to Atlanta, and the aching limb was too much for Annett the morning of the race. That led to a scramble to find a driver for the No. 1 Chevrolet.

Austin Dillon was recruited with less than an hour until the green flag, and the NASCAR Cup Series driver was fitted into the car with but moments to spare prior to the field rolling off for pace laps. Dillon, who had not raced in the NXS since 2019, ran in the top 10 much of the day and ended up 11th thanks to a traffic jam on a late-race restart.

Annett had an MRI on the Monday following, which revealed a stress fracture in his right femur that would require surgery. Josh Berry was recruited to drive for the team at New Hampshire, and JRM sought and received a playoff waiver for Annett to remain eligible for the postseason despite not having started all the races.

Heading into the first of two off-weekends, Annett is still 32 points to the good for the playoffs despite missing two starts. That means the focus is on getting solid finishes and maintaining his playoff position, Bumgarner said.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Bumgarner said of his team’s playoff chances. “We’ll have some points in hand, and there are a couple of speedway races (Michigan and Daytona) where we have a chance to make up some of the ground once we get through the two road courses (Watkins Glen and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road circuit).”

Beyond those races, the regular season comes to an end with races at Darlington Raceway, Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway, with the latter the final race before the playoffs begin. The closing flurry is a good one for Annett and the No. 1 team.

Annett was seventh earlier this year at Darlington and was eighth there in the fall of 2020. He logged consecutive seventh-place results in the Richmond doubleheader last fall, and was passing for fourth at Bristol in the fall when he was clipped by a spinning lapped car and crashed. Annett said after the race his Pilot Flying J machine was the fastest car on the track.

That gives Bumgarner a good feeling heading into a make-or-break section of the schedule.

“The biggest thing is to get Michael back in the car healthy,” he said. “We’ll be at the verge of the playoffs in points as well as owner points. We go to the two road courses and Daytona, and those are all kind of a tossup in terms of points. There’s going to be some tough races in the month of August, and we’ll know after Daytona where our fate stands as far as making the playoffs.”

A healthy Annett is important, Bumgarner said.

“The biggest thing is getting Michael healthy and making sure his confidence is up and we’ll pick up right where we left off at Road America and Nashville, all those places where I felt like we were strong,” he said. “At Las Vegas, we had a very strong performance at the first of the year, and if we get into the playoffs, I think we can go there and perform really well, as well as at the other tracks after that.”

Bumgarner is in his first year as a crew chief since 2013, having spent the intervening time as director of race operations at JRM. That position had him focused on building the cars for all four teams, and while there’s nothing he doesn’t know about the machinery, the team aspect has been a whole new ballgame. The fact that No. 1 team has been essentially an intact unit for the past three seasons has helped, he said.

“It’s definitely made the transition easier for me because I’m working with guys that have worked with Michael for two-plus years,” Bumgarner said. “A lot of these guys know what Michael likes and doesn’t like, and if you have an idea, they’ll say, ‘hey, this will work,’ or ‘he might not like that.’ It’s been a huge, huge plus.”

The next seven races are crucial to the No. 1 Pilot Flying J team’s playoff hopes, and Bumgarner is confident in his team’s ability to make the 12-car field.

“Historically, Richmond is very good for JR Motorsports as a company as well as with Michael,” Bumgarner said. “He’s always run well there, and at Bristol and Darlington. When we show up a places like Michigan and Texas, we haven’t had to use strategy to try and pull out a finish. I feel like we’ve raced in the top 10, the top seven or eight, and we’ve raced a little different toward the end of the race and haven’t had to use a pit call to gain positions.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • August 7 04:00 PM ET
    Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey 200Watkins Glen International
  • August 14 04:00 PM ET
    Pennzoil 150Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
  • August 21 03:00 PM ET
    New Holland 250Michigan International Speedway
  • August 27 07:30 PM ET
    Wawa 250Daytona International Speedway
  • September 4 03:30 PM ET
    Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help A Hero 200Darlington Raceway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Ambetter Get Vaccinated 200

New Hampshire Motor Speedway | 7/17/2021
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Austin Cindric7970
2AJ Allmendinger715-82
3Daniel Hemric684-113
4Justin Allgaier653-144
5Harrison Burton615-182
6Jeb Burton589-208
7Justin Haley577-220
8Noah Gragson544-253
11Michael Annett450-347