Michael Annett and crew chief Travis Mack went into Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley 200 for NASCAR Xfinity Series cars with knowledge that the No. 1 Pilot Flying J “Thank You Veterans” Chevrolet would have to contend for victory to have a chance at making the Championship 4 next week in Miami. Annett and the No. 1 team did indeed challenge for victory, spending most of the first two stages in the top six and running as high as third on the afternoon, but the stirring drive fell short at the end with a ninth-place result.

The key to Annett’s drive for the victory came on lap 117, when Mack called him down pit road for fuel only as a way to advance his track position for the final 83 laps. The extra set of Goodyear tires in the pit box would hopefully come into play under caution later in the race, as the remainder of the lead pack opted to use their last sets on that caution period. The hoped-for caution never came out, however, and Annett rallied to earn his 19th top-10 finish of the season, two better than his previous season-best total set in 2012.

Once Annett exited the pits, in third position thanks to a quick pit stop from his Pilot Flying J pit crew, the die was cast. Restarting from the inside of the second row, Annett dropped a spot on the first lap of green-flag racing and lost two more three laps later. His Chevrolet had developed a loose condition and as a result, Annett ran 12th after just seven laps of green-flag racing. Annett told Mack that he was sideways most of the time and thought he might have had a flat tire. The handling stabilized soon after that, and Annett took 11th place just 12 laps later. At that point, Annett told Mack that the handling had gone to the tight side. From there, it was a matter of advancing as far as possible with the car that he had, still waiting for the caution to fly.

It never did, and Annett’s lap times started to pick up despite the fact that he was on older tires. He passed JRM teammate Noah Gragson for 10th place on lap 163 and passed Brandon Jones on lap 181 to run ninth, a position he held to the finish.

After starting ninth, Annett was maintaining his position on lap 14 when Riley Herbst got loose underneath Annett’s Camaro, making contact with the left rear fender and knocking Annett off his line. Herbst spun and hit the wall, but Annett was largely unaffected by the incident. When green-flag racing returned, Annett promptly moved up to sixth spot in just seven laps. He would maintain that position until the green-checkered flag waved at lap 45, banking five stage points in the process. At the break, Mack called him down pit road for four tires and fuel with no adjustments, and he fired off sixth for the Stage Two restart.

Annett, who said prior to the race that he would have to excel on restarts all day to have a chance to move on, pulled off a beauty as the field returned to racing. Following teammate Justin Allgaier, Annett went to the high line and swept up to third place the next time by the flag stand. Over the remaining laps Annett was able to hang in the top four, battling with defending series champion Tyler Reddick until the latter got past with nine laps remaining in the stage. When Stage Two ended, Annett was fifth, which was worth another six points.

 

Michael Annett Quote: “We had a really good Pilot Flying J Chevrolet for the first two stages, but I don’t know if we could have gone up there and competed with Justin (Allgaier). It was as close as we have been to doing that in some time. Travis (crew chief Travis Mack) made the call not to take tires because we had to do something different. We had to win, and that gave us a chance to do that. I can’t believe we didn’t get a caution over the last half of the race. Usually you get one with 40 laps to go and then 10 more after that. We’ll go to Homestead next week looking to win it and finish in the top five in points. After not making the playoffs last year, that’s a pretty good deal.”

 

About Pilot Flying J: Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers in North America, is committed to connecting people and places with comfort, care and a smile at every stop. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Pilot Flying J has more than 750 retail locations in 44 states, Roadside assistance available at over 145 locations nationwide and growing as part of its Truck Care program, 44 Goodyear Commercial Tire and Service Centers, and 34 Boss Shops. The Pilot Flying J network provides drivers with access to more than 72,000 parking spaces for trucks with Prime Parking at more than 400 locations, 5,200 deluxe showers and more than 6,200 diesel lanes with 5,200 offering Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) at the pump. Pilot Flying J is currently ranked No. 15 on Forbes' list of America's Largest Private Companies. Visit www.pilotflyingj.com for more information.