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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Michael Annett, former hockey player

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A lot of race car drivers come from dirt. Others rise through the ranks on asphalt.

One driver in the Xfinity Series started out on a much colder surface.

Michael Annett, driver of the No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, first tried his hand at hockey.

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Annett once competed on Team Illinois, which won the 2002 Calgary Mac’s AAA Hockey Tournament Championship when he was 16. Annett was with the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks in the United States Hockey League when it won the Clark Cup Championship.

The Most Improved Player in 2004, he was only able to stretch his talent so far.

“Playing hockey I was 5-10 (186 pounds), which is not very good stats as a hockey player to be on a D-1 team,” Annett told NBC Sports. “I was kind of the ‘Rudy.’ I just worked my tail off. I was probably the least talented guy on every team I played on.

“The (racing) opportunity opened up and I got my parents talked into it,” Annett said. “We lost in the playoffs that year in 2005 and a week later we were in a Silver Crown car down at Memphis Motorsports Park. My dad wanted to see if I had any talent whatsoever.”

Within two years Annett won his first of two ARCA Racing Series races for Bill Davis, claiming victory at Talladega Superspeedway. A year later, he beat future JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier to win at Daytona International Speedway.

The following interview has been edited and condensed.

NBC SportsHow did you and sponsor Pilot Flying J get hooked up? You’ve been together for several years now.

Annett: I’ve been privileged and definitely humbled with everything I’ve been able to do. But my dad (Harold Annett) does own a big trucking company (TMC Transportation) and Pilot Flying J is where they buy their fuel from. That relationship there got us in the door. It wasn’t like a given, but it kept the door open to give a proposition. That’s been huge and then the relationship has just grown. They’re friends now, they’re not necessarily just a sponsor.

NBC Sports: What was it that first drew your attention to auto racing? What’s your earliest memory of the sport?

Annett: I was at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway when I was, I think three or four days old, and they scheduled my c-section so that we could be there. My dad owned a World of Outlaws sprint car team (with driver Sammy Swindell). From that weekend on I was at the dirt track watching sprint cars every weekend of my life. In ’93, they went Busch Grand National racing and weren’t competitive and my dad just kind of said, ‘I’m done spending money. I’m going to focus on the trucking company.’ Probably a month later I was at a learn-to-skate program starting my hockey career.

NBC Sports: Do remember the first time you saw your name or face on merchandise?

Annett: I do. It was when I was running ARCA, driving that 28 car for Bill Davis. It was actually a t-shirt. I had an idea pop up in my head and sat down and started drawing it, designing it out. I always like it and you can see it on my fireproof underwear that I wear. Growing up playing hockey, I liked the big number on the back like you’re wearing a hockey jersey. That’s kind of my trademark apparel.

NBC Sports: What’s the best race you’ve ever been in?

Annett: I can’t remember the year (2008), but it was when I was driving the 22 truck (for Bill Davis), at that time. It was ORP (Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis), they change the name of that track every year. One of the best races I’ve ever ran and sure enough, passing for third place with about three laps to go, I spun out. Just where I was to where I was when I spun out. … I remember Slugger Labbe, he was spotting for me. I was down on the (inside) through the grass at ORP, while everybody is up at the wall and I was down on the bottom passing cars. He said, ‘I don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but keep doing it.’

NBC Sports: What’s your least favorite part of race day?

Annett: Waiting around. I’d like to be able to wake up, put on my firesuit and go to work. Some of those schedules where we have to wait around three hours for the driver’s meeting, then you get an hour to change and get something to eat. Then you go sit on pit road for 45 minutes taking pictures. I don’t mind the taking pictures part, but you’re still waiting around. I just want to get going.

NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional reaction to a sporting event you’ve had that wasn’t auto racing?

Annett: When the Falcons lost (the Super Bowl). I’m a big Falcons fan and I had a lot of money riding on that game. … Just kind of in disbelief. I kept telling everybody, because I started getting cocky when they scored coming into the third quarter, I’m like ‘(the Patriots) can’t come back’ and then I looked over at my girlfriend and I go, ‘If anybody can come back, Tom Brady will.’ And sure enough.

NBC Sports: How long have you been a Falcons fan?

Annett: About four years. I’m really good friends with Reed Sorenson and he’s from Peachtree City, Georgia. So his whole life he’s been a Falcons fan. He started taking me down to games and it just became my team. Being from Des Moines, Iowa, you kind of just (pick a team), you’re not really born into a team.

Previous Q&A’s

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

All-Star Race, Open entry lists

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It’s officially All-Star Race week.

For the first time the annual exhibition event that awards $1 million will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET Wednesday on FS1).

Twenty drivers will compete in the 140-lap, four-stage main event. Sixteen drivers currently make up the field following Cole Custer’s win Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Three drivers will qualify for the main event via the All-Star Open, the 85-lap preliminary race that’s divided into three stages. The winners of all three stages will advance. The remaining driver will advance via a fan vote.

Here are the entry lists for each race.

All-Star Race 

Drivers who automatically qualified for the All-Star Race: Those who won points races in 2019-20, past All-Star Race winners and previous Cup champions.

Drivers who have clinched an All-Star Race spot: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Cole Custer, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

Click here for the entry list.

All-Star Open

Twenty-two drivers are entered in the preliminary race.

Notable drivers include Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, rookies Tyler Reddick, William Byron and John Hunter Nemechek, as well as Bubba Wallace.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR in ‘good place’ with Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson after fight

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Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, says that series officials will keep an eye on Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson moving forward but that the sanctioning body feels it is in a “good place” with those drivers after their fight last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson punched Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway. A NASCAR spokesperson said Friday night that no penalties were anticipated.

Asked about where matters stood between NASCAR and the two drivers, Miller told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday morning:

“I personally wasn’t in the post-race conversations. (NASCAR Xfinity Series Managing Director) Wayne Auton does a great job with that and the report that I got from him is he talked to some of the crew members that were involved and obviously both of the drivers. I think we got to a good place. They’re going to have some words this week and try to make sure we’re in a good spot when we start the weekend next weekend in Texas. We feel like we’re OK.

“This is an emotional sport and there’s going to be things like that that crop up. It’s not a great situation for us to deal with as a sanctioning body, but we also want the emotion in the sport. That’s what makes it so special. Those things are unfortunate, but we do know from time to time those are going to happen. If we feel good about the conversations we’ve had, in a lot of cases we’re going to move on from that and keep an eye on those individuals moving forward.”

Race and Sports in America: Conversations to air at 8 p.m. ET Monday

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Damon Hack will host two roundtables with athletes and former athletes for a conversation on race and sports in America. The show airs at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic Channel and the NBC Sports Regional Networks.

Appearing with Hack will be Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, NBA superstar Steph Curry, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, NFL player Kyle Rudolph, pro golfer Troy Mullins, former tennis player James Blake, Major League Baseball player James Rollins and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Among the topics discussed are: The conversations they’ve had with family in the last few months, what they hope things will be like in a year’s time, the level of optimism vs. pessimism and their experiences.

 

 

Winners and losers from Kentucky

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WINNERS

Cole CusterHe entered Sunday’s race well out of a playoff spot at 25th in the points. He took advantage of a series of events in the final laps to score a dramatic victory and earn a playoff spot.

Martin Truex Jr.Lost the lead on the last lap but recorded his first top-five finish since his Martinsville win last month.

Matt DiBenedetto He was 18th with 14 laps to go and finished third.

Christopher BellSeventh-place finish was his fourth finish of 12th or better in the last six races.

Austin Cindric Had not won on an oval in the Xfinity Series before sweeping both series races at Kentucky Speedway.

LOSERS

Matt KensethA week after finishing runner-up at Indianapolis, he spun twice and finished 25th at Kentucky.

Ryan PreeceFinished last for the second race in a row. He was eliminated in a pit road accident at Indy and by transmission issues at Kentucky. He has failed to finish five of 17 races this season (29.4%).

Jimmie JohnsonWas third on a late restart when contact with Brad Keselowski spun him. Instead of contending for his first victory since 2017, Johnson finished 18th and had a little warning for Keselowski.