NASCAR Xfinity/Trucks Notebook: Annett starts 2019 on the right track

NASCAR Xfinity/Trucks Notebook: Annett starts 2019 on the right track
Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

HAMPTON< GA -- Michael Annett had a renewed drive entering 2019, long before winning last Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway. 

Now driving the No. 1 Chevy—a tribute to his hero Sammy Swindell—the 32-year-old Des Moines native finally parked it in Victory Lane in his 230th career series start. 

After relishing the long-awaited accomplishment, Annett was ready to dive back in at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday.

“You love the excitement,” Annett said of his victory. “You love to have something exciting to talk about. But honestly, I couldn’t wait to get back to the race track. Some people wanted to keep talking about it, but we’re already having meetings, watching videos on Atlanta.

“It’s tough to move your focus towards next week, but you also don’t want to regret not enjoying the moment.”

After more than a decade of competing in NASCAR’s top three series without a win, Annett has heard the detractors question his reasons for being in the sport. He learned a long time ago not to dwell on the negative. 

But after failing to score a top five last season and missing the Playoffs, Annett entered the 2019 season with renewed purpose. He hired a personal trainer and went to work. 

“The criticism was well-deserved,” Annett said. “I couldn’t let it bother me that much. You have to  use it as fuel and put it towards energy of trying to right the ship, honestly.”

Annett noticed the tide start to turn when JRM recruited Travis Mack as his crew chief. He recognized the faith both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller immediately had in Mack. Since the crew chief change last August, the driver has felt a renewed level of enthusiasm around the team—and that conviction isn’t lost on Annett.

“What he brought the second he came over is his excitement, his ideas and his confidence of knowing where we can get to as a team—and he has the right plan to get us there,” Annett said. “He has just got everyone bought into it so well. 

“My confidence was at an all-time high going into Daytona with him telling me how strong my car was. It was almost like, “Well, I’ve got the car to do it now, just don’t screw it up.” 

Annett invited his team over for a Daytona 500 viewing party on Sunday. This week, he enjoyed the tradition JRM beer toast in his honor. After enduring other drivers’ performances feted over the last two years at the shop, Annett savored the moment—not so much for himself, but for the men who support him on a weekly basis.

“I’d been to a lot of those and we weren’t toasting anything I’d accomplished,” Annett said. “And not only the championship lunch. We have other quarterly lunches and they go over the stats of all the teams and there’s nothing I was really proud of that they could announce.

“Just to finally get that monkey off the back—and see the look on my guys’ faces. I think that was the hardest part, just looking around on those days and know that they’re working just as hard or harder on the set up plate next to us and didn’t have any win stickers on their boxes, didn’t have a banner with their picture on it hanging above the shop. It was just so cool to give that back to those guys and it’s something they’ve deserved for a long time. They’ve stuck with me. 

“Everyone has seen all of the changes we made in the offseason, and I’m sure some of those guys could have made a move or asked for a move and none of them did. So it was really cool to do that at Daytona with the guys that stuck with me.”

 

Finding the balance

Chase Briscoe won the 2016 ARCA title, finished sixth in the truck standings as a rookie in 2017 but scaled back to a half-season of action on the Xfinity Series last year. 

While he’s thrilled about racing a full season with Stewart-Haas Racing in the No. 98 Nurti Chomps Ford, something had to give. That would be his dirt track schedule. 

But Briscoe is grateful to be able to hone his skills on the NXS tour.

“It was really hard on the NASCAR side,” Briscoe said of the limited stock car schedule in 2018. “I was still racing. I would go run sprint cars or the sportscar stuff but it made it really hard to be good at the NASCAR stuff, especially right off the truck with the limited practice we have. 

“When guys are doing it each and every week it makes them so much better. I would race once and then there was one time I was off for a month and a half. It made it really hard. I felt like I wasn’t as good as I could have been. I think it will be a lot easier this year, being in the car each and every week. I still don't have a ton of stock car experience. I don't even have 60 races in my entire career yet in a stock car. I feel like I learn so much every time I get in the car. 

“In the short amount of time I have been in stock cars, I haven’t raced each and every week, I have always had breaks. I think this year will be easier from my end.” 

 

Be true to yourself

NASCAR drivers have often been accused of being vanilla. 

That wasn’t the case for last weekend’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series winner Austin Hill. 

When the driver of the No. 16 Hattori Racing Toyota took the checkered flag at Daytona International Speedway—his first victory in a truck—Hill squealed, “My God, we just won at Daytona (expletive rhyming with mothertruckers)!”

Needless to say, the 24-year-old Winston, Ga.-native was thrilled. So were his bosses—enough to let the faux pas slide.

“Mike Greci, the manager over at Hattori, he called me Sunday and was asking if I went to church or not because of what flew on the radio,” Hill said. “When something happens like that in your career, especially at Daytona, you’re full of so much emotion and you’re just so excited that stuff just happens that you don’t even realize it happened until after the fact. 

The next day, Saturday, I was thinking about it and I was like man, that probably wasn’t the best thing to say on the radio, but you’re so excited about winning Daytona, that was the last thing that was on my mind was what was being said on the radio. I was just overwhelmed. I never would’ve thought that Daytona would be a place that we’d win at, especially a restrictor plate race.”

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