Michael Annett Chicagoland Race Report

Michael Annett knew what he had to do on Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway. He had to run a smart race, take care of his No. 5 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet and make sure he qualified for the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs.

After 200 laps and 300 miles of racing on the 1.5-mile speedway, it was mission accomplished on all accounts. Annett ran in the top 15 all day long, taking care of his car and keeping an eye on his two playoff competitors. He easily qualified for the playoffs with his 15th-place finish in the Chicagoland 300, as Brendan Gaughan finished two spots ahead in 13th and Dakoda Armstrong a spot behind in 16th. Gaughan nipped Annett for ninth in series points by a single point, and Armstrong failed to make the field. With the playoff reset coming, Annett begins the seven-race march in 12th place.

Annett started 18th and ran as high as 15th in Stage One, feeling out the handling on his Pilot Flying J machine. As the 45-lap stage progressed, the car got looser on entry and tighter on the exit, a typical problem at tracks like Chicagoland. Leader Erik Jones set a torrid pace, and as the laps clicked down Annett found himself the last car on the lead lap in 17th. He finished the stage there, still on the lead lap, and brought the car to crew chief Jason Stockert and his crew with some changes in store. Four tires, fuel, air pressure and other adjustments went in on lap 48, and he gained two spots on the exchange to line up 15th for Stage Two.

On the restart, Annett held serve and was running 14th on lap 62 when he reported that the changes had made his car tighter. By lap 70, he was the last car on the lead lap again, as Jones was setting a blistering pace. He stayed 17th for the final 20 laps of the stage and again avoided going down a lap to Jones, while both his rivals for the playoff spots did not. Stockert went back on some of the changes from the first stop to help Annett’s handling, and the No. 5 team picked up two spots on the exchange. A pair of speeding penalties also took out cars running in front of him and he was 12th when the final 110-lap segment began.

Annett was still tight on exit as the run wore on, but was still 13th when green-flag stops began at lap 141. Cars ahead of Annett peeled off for service until Annett was scored fourth, and Stockert called him to pit road for what would turn out to be his final stop. A logjam on pit road caused Annett to turn in late to his stall and he slid through the box. By the time the crew pushed the car back into place and completed the service, 18 seconds had gone by and he returned to the track a lap down in 16th place. Stockert reminded him that nothing had been hurt and to concentrate on the mission. Annett was doing just that when the yellow waved for a spin on lap 151. Stockert decided to stay out for track position and took the wave-around after the leaders came to pit road again, getting back on the lead lap in 15th.

When green-flag racing resumed, Annett’s car switched to being loose on entry to the corners, eventually getting “really, really free,” according to Annett. Another yellow waved for a spin on lap 180, and that gave Stockert one more chance to get the car better for the finish. Four more tires, fuel and air pressure changes went on the car during the stop, but Annett was called for speeding at the exit of pit road, which put him behind the eight-ball for the restart in 17th spot.

After one more yellow, in which fifth-place Ryan Reed spun with 10 laps remaining, Annett restarted 15th and held his spot until the end, clinching his spot in the playoffs. Though he is 12th in the standings after the playoff reset, he’s just five points out of fifth place headed to the opening race at Kentucky Speedway next weekend.

Michael Annett, driver No. 5 Pilot Flying J team: “It wasn’t the day we wanted to have, but it was the day we had to have to get into the playoffs. The Pilot Flying J Chevrolet was good at times and it was a handful on occasion, but we got the job done and now we will compete for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. Jason (crew chief Jason Stockert) and the guys did a great job getting us where we needed to be and we can focus now on getting a good jump on the playoffs next week at Kentucky.”

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