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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.

DGR-Crosley switches from Toyota to Ford beginning in 2020

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Ford Performance is strengthening its driver development program by joining forces with DGR-Crosley, which announced its move from Toyota to Ford Wednesday.

The multi-year agreement will see team co-owner David Gilliland, a former Cup Series driver, lead the team’s driver development program as it field entries in late models, the ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

“We’re very excited to have DGR-Crosley come to Ford as part of our long-term efforts to develop drivers for NASCAR,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “We have just scratched the surface of what is possible in developing the next generation of Ford drivers with people like Chase Briscoe, and we believe a coordinated effort with a team like DGR-Crosley will help move that process forward successfully.

“David Gilliland was a trusted and valued Ford driver in NASCAR for many years, and we look forward to renewing that relationship with him in this new effort.”

Said Gilliland: “I’m super excited about the partnership with Ford and how things are lining up for 2020. I spent a lot of time racing Fords throughout my career, and it’s really special to now be able to bring them into our race shop. A lot of time and consideration was spent on this decision, and internally we know that this is the move that we needed to make in order to advance our program to the top level. We have a great group of hard-working, talented people at DGR-Crosley, and with Ford coming on board, our future is really bright. We’re excited for all the things ahead.”

DGR-Crosley will announce its driver lineup at a later date.

The team first entered the Truck Series in 2018. Tyler Ankrum won its first race this year at Kentucky Speedway, qualifying for the playoffs in the process.

It fielded a team record five entries in the playoff race at ISM Raceway.

Brennan Poole to compete full-time for Premium Motorsports in Cup Series

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Former Xfinity Series driver Brennan Poole will compete full-time in the Cup Series in 2020 with Premium Motorsports, Poole announced Wednesday on social media.

Poole, 28, will drive the No. 15 Chevrolet and would make his Cup debut in the Daytona 500.

He joins a rookie class that includes Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

“I’ve been working towards this moment since I was 5 and feel blessed to have the caliber of people surrounding me that I have in this next chapter of my racing career,” Poole said in a press release. “I look forward to the opportunity to showcase our sponsor partners, both new and existing, who are supporting me at the highest level of NASCAR competition.”

Poole takes over the car that was driven by Ross Chastain in a majority of his Cup starts in 2019.

A native of The Woodlands, Texas, Poole drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series from 2016-17. His best finish was second in the 2017 race at Kentucky Speedway.

He made 13 starts in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2019, driving for On Point Motorsports. His best result was second in the May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m very happy to welcome Brennan and his group to the Premium Motorsports family,” team owner Jay Robinson said in the press release. “Brennan is a very talented and dedicated young man, I believe he has a very bright future in the NASCAR Cup Series.”

Bojangles’ ends sponsorship of Southern 500

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The fast food chain Bojangles’ will no longer sponsor the Southern 500.

Bojangles’ has sponsored the event at Darlington Raceway since 2012.

Since 2015, the Southern 500 has been the site of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend, with Cup and Xfinity Series teams fielding retro paint schemes celebrating the sport’s history.

DarlingtonRaceway.com

“We’ve enjoyed a terrific relationship with Bojangles’ since 2012 and we look forward to their continued involvement in NASCAR for many years to come,” track president Kerry Tharp said in a statement. “Like Darlington, they are truly an authentic Southern brand.”

A logo for the race on Darlington’s website does not include a sponsor.

“Bojangles’ has enjoyed a long and successful partnership with the team at Darlington Raceway,” Bojangles’ said in a statement provided to NBC’s Myrtle Beach-affiliate WMBF. “While we will no longer be the title sponsor for the Southern 500, NASCAR remains an important part of our sports marketing strategy, and we look forward to announcing our plans for 2020 in the near future.”

The 2020 Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 on NBCSN.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: What were best NASCAR teams overall in 2019?

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As NASCAR Talk continues its post-season Power Rankings, here are the 10 teams we feel performed the best throughout the entire season across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

We made our picks based using a number of variables including which drivers work the best with their crew chiefs, which teams have the strongest pit crews, how a team was run, and assorted other elements that often spell the difference between success and lack thereof.

Note that we are selecting the best TEAMS, not necessarily the best organizations overall. But as you will soon find out, several of those best teams also came from within the same organization, as well.

Here’s how we picked them:

1. Kyle Busch and No. 18 Cup team (30 points): Sure, this team slumped a bit in the second half of the season, going winless in 21 of the final 22 races (although they still were able to win the regular season championship), but when everything was on the line in the championship-deciding race at Miami, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens proved why they are the best … and why they are the champions.

2. Martin Truex Jr. and No. 19 Cup team (27 points): From an overall consistency standpoint, there are few teams like the one spearheaded by Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex won the championship in 2017 and finished second in 2018 and 2019. The No. 19 also had a combined 19 wins in those three seasons. No other team matched that kind of performance (although Busch came close with 18 wins and finishes of 2nd, 4th and 1st during that same period). Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020 after Pearn unexpectedly announced he was leaving his position with Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday.

3. Kevin Harvick and No. 4 Cup team (23 points): Even though most other teams would welcome the opportunity to have the kind of performance the No. 4 team has enjoyed, the No. 4 team is seemingly stuck in a loop of sorts. Even though Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have a team that has won 14 races in the last three seasons and have one of the best pit crews in the business, they’ve finished third in each of those last three seasons. This is a team that has made a few mistakes over that same time period, and it can be argued that may be one of the reasons why it finished third so frequently.

4. Denny Hamlin and No. 11 Cup team (22 points): The combination of Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart together for the first time in 2019 paid big dividends, particularly with six wins (including the Daytona 500). Not only was that the second-most number of wins in a single season for Hamlin – and the most races he’s won in a decade – but also was a big bounceback after Hamlin failed to win even one race in 2018 with former crew chief Mike Wheeler. Sadly, the season did not end the way Hamlin and company had hoped. And given he is now 39 years old, it may very well have been the last strong bid Hamlin will have to win that elusive Cup championship.

5. Christopher Bell and No. 20 Xfinity team (15 points): There’s domination, then there’s what this team did from 2018-19. No titles, but 15 wins, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s in 66 races. Bell now advances to the Cup Series for 2020 and he’s taking crew chief Jason Ratcliff with him, which is a no-brainer.

(tie) 6. Chase Elliott and No. 9 Cup team (7 points): Valiant comeback to advance past the second round was wasted when everything went wrong in the next round. Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have become a strong team, winning a combined six races in the last two years, but there is still the issue of performing well under pressure. Elliott appeared a lock to advance to the Championship 4 round until he reached the third round and finished 36th, 32nd and 39th, ending his title hopes with a definitive thud.

(tie) 6. Ross Chastain and No. 45 Truck team (7 points): A team that opened the season not planning to run a full season with one driver, switched to a championship hunt after eight races, bounced back from having a win disqualified to win the next race and made it to the Championship 4.

(tie) 6. Cole Custer and No. 00 Xfinity team (7 points): Upgraded at crew chief with Mike Shiplett and went from a one-win-per-season team for the previous two seasons to finishing with seven wins in 2019, one less win than Christopher Bell. Not surprisingly, Custer and Shiplett will remain together when Custer jumps to the Cup series and the No. 41 in 2020.

(tie) 9. Joey Logano and No. 22 Cup team (6 points): It was a similar season to 2018 for Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon in 2019, but the end results were diametrically opposite. Whereas Logano went from underdog to champ in 2018, he fell short of running for a second career title in 2019, ultimately finishing fifth in the standings. Still, this duo works very well together. One thing that needs to be looked at if Logano wants to improve in 2020 is to cut down on the number of mistakes both he and his pit crew make.

(tie) 9. Tyler Reddick and No. 2 Xfinity team (6 points): This was an outstanding season for Reddick despite some challenges. Not only did Reddick move to Richard Childress Racing after he won the 2018 Xfinity championship for JR Motorsports, Reddick and crew chief Randall Burnett worked seamlessly throughout the season, winning five times and failing to finish in the top 10 just six times in 33 races. No surprise, they’ll stay together when Reddick drives the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing in 2020, with Burnett going with him.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski and No. 2 Cup team (5 points), Austin Hill and No. 16 Truck team (5 points), Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Truck team (2 points), Kyle Larson and No. 42 Cup team (3 points) and Ryan Newman and No. 6 Cup team (1 point).

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