Season in Review: Bumgarner Returns to Pit Box, Leads No. 1 team to Round of 8

Ron Lemasters | 12/13/2021

Michael Annett Mike Bumgarner News Pilot Flying J

Bumgarner and the No. 1 team were on the cusp of racing for an owner championship after a late-season win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Dec. 13, 2021) -- Mike Bumgarner returned to the pit box for Michael Annett and the No. 1 team at JR Motorsports for 2021, and in 31 races, he had the team on the cusp of racing for an owner's championship.

The longtime Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports stalwart overcame an injury to Annett that cost the Iowa driver seven races and engineered a victory in the playoff opener to put the team in that position. With the help of JRM driver Josh Berry, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon, the season came down to the penultimate round with the possibility of advancing to the championship race in the owner's battle.

Annett had the opportunity to make it happen, but a crash on late-race restart put an end to that hope at Martinsville Speedway.

"I feel like it was a successful season," Bumgarner said in the weeks after the end of the year. "Unfortunately, Michael had his injury there in the middle part of the season, and we were really looking forward to finishing it out with a shot to run in that top eight in driver points. I felt like we had the speed to do that. Everybody dug in and worked and tried to keep everybody motivated with the driver changes, and fortunately, as a team, we had Josh Berry as a backup here at JRM and we were able to get a win.

"At the end of the season, we were able to get Michael back in the car and we had speed, but we needed just a little bit more. I feel like we had a successful season."

Annett started the season off with a solid run at Daytona in the opener before being swept up in a crash coming to pit road. Solid runs at both the Daytona Road Course and Homestead led to a strong run at Las Vegas, where the Iowa native recorded a sixth-place finish.

After a mechanical issue stopped a good run at Phoenix in the following event, Annett reeled off top-10 efforts in four of the next five races (Atlanta, Martinsville, Darlington and Dover), crashing out at Talladega through no fault of his own. The flurry of solid finishes put him firmly in the race for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.

In the rain at Circuit of the Americas, Annett soldiered to an 11th-place finish and two races later produced a fine seventh-place result at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course before logging a top-10 run at Texas. Continuing to excel on the road courses—of which there were seven on the schedule in 2021—Annett posted a third-place result at Road America two races later.

At that point, the No. 1 team's season took a turn that no one saw coming. Annett sustained a stress fracture in his right leg, making it painful for the Iowa native to race the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro. A last-minute driver change the following week at Atlanta saw Austin Dillon take over for an 11th-place finish.

Annett underwent surgery to repair the leg and was unable to compete at New Hampshire, so JRM teammate Josh Berry stepped into the No. 1 Chevrolet for an eighth-place result on the 1.058-mile oval.

Returning to the cockpit at Watkins Glen, Annett raced in the top 10 most of the day before a spirited  battle with teammate Sam Mayer in the late going saw him just miss the top 10 in 11th. The bothersome leg flared up again and Annett would miss the next two races.

Chase Elliott sat in for him at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, earning a fourth-place result, and Berry put together a stirring drive at Michigan to finish fourth despite having to come from the tail of the field twice.

Annett was back in the car at Daytona, only to be caught in a crash early in the 100-lap event. He rallied to finish 30th in the rain-delayed race with a damaged Camaro. Again, Annett's injury flared up and he missed three races while receiving therapy.

Berry was in the car at Bristol but sidelined by a mechanical failure. The following week at Las Vegas in the playoff opener, Berry led the final 17 laps after passing JRM teammates Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson, giving the No. 1 team its first victory of the season. The triumph also locked the squad into the Round of 8 in the playoffs. At Talladega the next week, Berry raced to a ninth-place finish, helping the team further its quest to make the Championship 4.

Annett, healed enough to resume his full-time duties, ran the final five races of the season, logging top-10 results at both Texas and Kansas to put the team in position to earn a spot in the owner's championship race with a strong performance at Martinsville in the cutoff race for the title.

Annett was running in the top six late in the race when he was collected by an over-eager group of cars dicing for position off Turn 2 at lap 192. The contact shot Annett's car into the outside wall and did terminal damage, ending the team's hopes for the Championship 4.

In October, Annett announced he would retire from full-time NXS competition at the end of the year, and in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, Annett finished a solid 11th.

For the season, the No. 1 team posted one victory, four top-five and 15 top-10 finishes, leading a combined 66 laps among the four drivers.

For his part, Bumgarner returned to the ranks of full-time crew chiefs for the first time since 2013, and it was a solid year at the helm.

"It was different for me," the North Carolina native said. "I had never done any of the stage-racing stuff, other than a few races with Dale (team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.), and so with the tire allotment, the stage racing and the different things the Xfinity Series has going on, it was definitely different."

Strategically, it was different from the past, but fairly straightforward, he said.

"It took a little bit to get used to, but the way the racing played out, you could only flip a few races other than road-course races. There was some strategy, but most of the time there wasn't. It was crazy how the season played out. That made it a little easier. The guys I work with, luckily, have been in the series for three or four years with Michael, and they understand what comments he makes during the race and the adjustments and stuff. It helped me make the transition a lot easier."

For his part, Berry's five races with the team were memorable, especially the win at Las Vegas and a dominant late-race performance at Michigan.

"There were a couple times where there was a little less preparation than we could have hoped for, but I really felt like a different driver," Berry said. "My 2022 season full-time had already been announced, and I just got to go race knowing what I was going to do next year already. It just made me better. We had a couple of great runs, a great win at Las Vegas and I am grateful for the opportunity and to Bummy and Michael and everyone for putting me in the car."

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • February 19 05:00 PM ET
    Beef. It's What's For Dinner. 300Daytona International Speedway
  • February 26 05:00 PM ET
    Production Alliance 300Auto Club Speedway
  • March 5 04:30 PM ET
    Alsco Uniforms 300Las Vegas Motor Speedway
  • March 12 04:30 PM ET
    NXS Race at PhoenixPhoenix Raceway
  • March 19 05:00 PM ET
    Nalley Cars 250Atlanta Motor Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After NXS Championship

Phoenix Raceway | 11/6/2021
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Daniel Hemric (P)40400
2Austin Cindric (P)4035-5
3Noah Gragson (P)4025-15
4AJ Allmendinger (P)4023-17
5Justin Allgaier2300-1740
6Justin Haley2244-1796
7Brandon Jones2239-1801
15Michael Annett638-3402
25Sam Mayer #338-3702