Michael Annett and crew chief Travis Mack gambled on a late-race pit stop and were in position to earn another top-five finish or possibly a victory in Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines at Auto Club Speedway. The hoped-for caution flag did not come out, however, and Annett wound up 13th in the No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet.

It was an otherwise solid day for Annett and his No. 1 team, finishing in the points at the end of each stage and leading five laps on the day. It could have been even better. Annett was running eighth on lap 125 when Brandon Jones looped his car in Turn 3 to bring out the fifth caution of the day. Having just stopped on lap 113 for four tires, fuel and an air-pressure adjustment, Annett and Mack opted to stay out when the majority of the lead-lap cars came to pit road for their last sets of tires. The only other lead-lap car that stayed out was JR Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson, and the two teammates led the field to the green flag on lap 131.

Annett and Gragson were immediately swallowed up by the cars with fresher tires and fell back through the field. Annett was 14th when the field crossed the stripe on the first green-flag lap and stayed there as the laps clicked away. With eight to go, Annett passed Jeremy Clements for 13th spot and that’s where he finished. Prior to that, the No. 1 team had been in the thick of the battle for the top 10 all day long.

Starting 16th, Annett wasted little time in moving forward. He was 15th at the end of the first lap and kept marching forward until he hit the top 10 on lap 22. Over the remaining laps in the 35-lap Stage One, Annett advanced to sixth and gained five stage points. On pit road at the break, the No. 1 crew installed four new tires and added fuel, gaining a spot to fifth for the restart to begin Stage Two. That restart proved problematic for the Iowa driver, however, as he got pinned on the low line and lost six spots once the green flag waved. After working his way back to his preferred groove, Annett began carving his way back toward the upper reaches of the top 10. When Stage Two ended, Annett was ninth, earning two more stage points on the day.

On his pit stop for the 80-lap run to the checkered, Mack made the call for an air-pressure adjustment and added four tires and fuel, sending his driver back out in seventh place. After a solid restart that saw Annett rise to sixth place early on, the caution flag waved seven laps later for a two-car incident and Annett followed the lead pack back onto pit road for tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment to help his drive off Turn 2. During the stop, Annett slid through his pit box and had to back up before service began, which cost him eight spots on the track. Another good restart saw the Iowa native gain three spots on the initial break to 11th. By lap 112, Annett was ninth when the caution waved again. Another visit to pit road saw four more tires, fuel and a slight air-pressure change for the Pilot Flying J Camaro, and it also saw a gain of two spots when others ahead of him were hit with penalties, including Gragson and race-long leader Kyle Busch.

Just a few laps later, the caution for Jones waved, and that set up the gamble the team took in order to go for the victory. “I love results,” Annett told Mack on the radio. “But I love win stickers too.”

 

Michael Annett Quote: “With a victory in our back pocket, we were able to gamble a bit late in the race, thinking that another caution was going to come out before the end and allow us a shot at winning another one. I had a feeling it was going to happen that way, and we had a set of tires in the pits just for that. It didn’t work out that way and we were out there on old tires, but it’s a nice feeling to be in the position where we can take that gamble. We had a good Pilot Flying J Chevrolet and Travis (Mack) made a good call for the situation. It will come our way one of these days. We led laps and doubled up on stage points today, so all in all, it was a successful run for us.”

 

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