The strategy from crew chief Travis Mack was perfect at the end of Saturday’s Camping World 300 for NASCAR Xfinity Series cars at Chicagoland Speedway. Staying out more than 20 laps longer than his rivals, driver Michael Annett was leading the 200-lap event but hoping for a caution flag. He got it with 27 laps to go, pitted for tires and precious fuel, and led the field to the green flag with just 21 circuits remaining.

Cole Custer, starting directly behind Annett’s No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet on that restart, made a lunge to the inside of Annett’s car and made the pass stick down the back straightaway. Custer went on to win the race. Annett kept the leader in sight before falling into the clutches of Joey Logano and Christopher Bell. Logano got past with 19 laps remaining and Bell worked his way past four laps later with a low dive into Turn 3. Annett powered home fourth, his sixth straight top-10 finish and his fourth in the top five through 15 races. The fourth-place run was also the Iowa driver’s best this season in the four races on 1.5-mile tracks, and his average finish on those tracks is a stellar 5.3.

After pitting on lap 112 for four tires, fuel and adjustments, Annett stayed out as the others in the lead pack drifted to pit road once their pit windows opened. Annett kept the hammer down and took the lead for the first time on lap 155, as Mack had played a strategy card that depended on catching a caution before the team’s window closed. When B.J. McLeod slapped the wall off Turn 2 on lap 172, that caution waved, and Annett’s thirsty Pilot Flying J Chevrolet came down pit road three laps later for fuel and the team’s last set of tires. The pit crew got Annett out still in the lead, and that set up the final run to the finish.

Starting 16th when the race went green, Annett wasted little time getting toward the front. In just seven laps, he was 11th in the order and advanced to the top 10 a few laps later when the yellow waved for a spin. Through the rest of the 45-lap Stage One, Annett was in the top eight and finished there when the green-checkered flag waved to end it. On his pit stop, Annett got tires and fuel along with an air-pressure tweak, and his Pilot Flying J crew earned two spots on the stop to send him back out in sixth position.

After a caution flag on lap 79, Annett pitted from sixth for more tires and fuel, plus an air-pressure adjustment. Unfortunately, NASCAR called him for speeding in the final section of pit road, and that put him 20th for the restart. Despite having just a handful of laps remaining in the stage, Mack told his driver he had time to get back to the top 10, and Annett very nearly did. Annett gained four spots on the first lap of green-flag racing and was 11th when the flag ended Stage Two. Pitting again, Mack put on four more tires and added fuel, sending Annett back out in 10th spot. In the final stint, Annett was ninth when the caution waved again at lap 112, and Mack brought Annett down pit road again for tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. Restarting 16th, Annett needed just two laps to get back to the top 10 and stayed there the rest of the way. As his rivals pitted near the end, Annett had the Pilot Flying J Chevrolet flying in the top groove and eventually took the lead at lap 155.

 

Michael Annett Quote: “That strategy from Travis (Mack) worked out perfectly, and we were in a good spot there at the end. We got the caution we needed a lap or two before were going to have to come down pit road. Our Pilot Flying J Chevrolet was fast all weekend, and Cole (Custer) made a great move underneath me on that last restart. We have a win in the bank, so going for another one made sense. We have been really good on 1.5-mile tracks this season and that’s going to help us when it comes to the Playoffs.”

 

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