Returning to the XFINITY Series this season, Michael Annett didn’t start off the season as well as he would’ve hoped, with no top-10 finishes in the first three races. Annett expected that, calling it growing pains after having spent the last five years out of the series.
“It’s getting back to these cars, this horsepower, and how they drive different than a Cup car,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “Just trying to get used to that again and what I need to feel in practice to be good at the start of the races. I think that’s where we’ve struggled the most. We don’t get the car to where we want it to halfway through the race, and these races are just too short to dealing with that issue, especially with the segments with the way they are now.
Everything is starting to come together, though. This past weekend, he was able to post a ninth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway for his first top-10 of 2017. Annett says the finish is not only big for him, but for the team as it gives them confidence moving forward.
“That’s one of the biggest things in this sport,” he said. “As soon as you get confident, it’s hard to take it away, and you get that in your head that you can get the job done, and the team gets excited as their hard work is paying off. As they say in this sport – once you learn how to win and get the first win, many more come. You could say the same for top-10s. I’ve seen it in the past when I was in my first year at Richard Petty Motorsports. I kept looking for my first top-five in the series, and we got that first one, and got five more right away.”
While it’s early in the year and some say there’s lots of time to get better, the pressure seems to be on Annett now to perform, knowing how important points are, perhaps even more than this year than previous with the stages.
“Points are more important than anything because even though what Cup drivers can do in XFINITY races, I think there’s going to be a lot of Cup guys winning races,” he said. “Therefore, points are going to matter whether you make the Chase or not. It’s not going to be everybody in that Chase will have a race win.”
It’s why Annett feels not only do they need to start knocking down more wins, but also running up front throughout the stages due to the top-10 getting points. The JR Motorsports driver noted that while he has finished top-21 in each race completing all the laps, his teammate Justin Allgaier has wrecked twice but was tied with him in points due to the stage points.
Even though he admits right now the new format is hurting his team’s performance, he likes the format in how it rewards you for your effort throughout the weekend.
“If you do your work in practice on Friday and then go out on Saturday morning and qualify well making it to the third round, you put yourself in a really good opportunity to get points in the first segment,” he said. “If you did your work on Friday and have a car good on long runs, you can look at getting points in the second segment and so on. I think it rewards the team that puts that whole weekend together, more than anything.”
He’ll get his next opportunity to earn more points this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, a track where he has posted a top-20 finish in each of his previous six starts, including a track best of sixth.
“It’s just a really fun race track,” he said. “We just came off Phoenix where there’s no place like Phoenix. Well, there’s really no place like California. We always talk about how rough it is, how slick and wore out, and always bring up the seams and how people struggle when they cross over the seams and you see a lot of cars getting loose. Then you look at down at turns three and four, (and) you see cars with all four tires below the apron; you just don’t see that at two-mile tracks. It’s unlike any other, but it’s really fast. It really lacks grip, and it just puts on really good racing. You kind of just go into the corner, pick a spot, and wherever you end up after sliding across the track, you pick up the gas, and you’re wide open again. It’s just a really fun track. All of us drivers love tracks that lack grip and California is definitely one of them.”
If he can put together another top-10, it’d allow JR Motorsports to possibly have all four of their drivers in the top-five in points as Elliott Sadler currently leads William Byron by 11 points, with Allgaier in fourth following his win at Phoenix. As of right now, Annett is sitting ninth in the series standings.
“We need to be up where our teammates are,” Annett said. “We’ve got three teammates that are in the top-five in points. We need to be up there with them and have the same goals as they do, which is to get as many points as possible, win races, be in there Chase at the end, and be in the group going into Homestead for the championship. I think looking at all the resources that we have and the teammates that I have, the guys I am surrounded by, if that wasn’t our goal, then I shouldn’t even be showing up to the track each weekend.”
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