Joe Graf Jr.

Xfinity Series storylines for Darlington

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Remember the Xfinity Series?

It’s been a while. Xfinity Series drivers will compete Tuesday night at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on FS1) in their first race since March 7 at Phoenix Raceway.

Jeff Meendering, the last crew chief to win in Xfinity, looks back at the March 7 race and it “honestly feels like it was the last race of the season and we’re getting ready to start a new season.”

But it’s not a new season. It’s race No. 5 of the 2020 season. Here’s a refresher on where the Xfinity Series is heading to Darlington.

1.) Joe Gibbs Racing Strikes Back

Entering 2020, there were a lot of questions surrounding Joe Gibbs Racing’s driver lineup, which consisted of Brandon Jones (one win in 137 starts), Harrison Burton (nine Xfinity starts, winless in 38 Truck Series starts) and Riley Herbst (winless in 17 Xfinity/Truck Series starts).

Even Jeff Meendering, crew chief on Jones’ No. 19 Toyota, had concerns.

We were pretty nervous going into the West Coast swing that, ‘Oh my gosh, we could come home and be in trouble car wise from potential wrecks and everything,'” Meendering said. “It actually didn’t turn out anything like that.”

Instead, JGR went into NASCAR’s COVID-19 imposed lockdown with two consecutive wins after Burton won at Auto Club Speedway and Jones found Victory Lane at Phoenix. Meanwhile, Burton, who finished in the top five in all four races, leads the point standings. The team’s only DNF was from Herbst at Daytona.

“We heard the doubters from outside, I guess, but that just only motivated us to be better,” said Burton, who went winless as a Kyle Busch Motorsports driver in the Truck Series in 2019. “There was the Big 3 last year (Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer), we had a meeting and we wanted our three guys to be the Big 3 this year. We wanted to race each other every weekend for wins and go against each other every weekend and have to beat our JGR teammates, which is kind of how it’s been.”

While Burton, 19, has led the charge for JGR, it’s Jones, 23, who is the veteran of the group. He’s in his fifth full-time Xfinity campaign and third with JGR.

“We all laughed at the start of the year,” Jones recalled. “I said, ‘Well, dang boys. I’m the old man of the group I guess this year.’ But it is it is interesting. Christopher (Bell) last year was obviously dominant. But I still have more races than he had in Xfinity, but he just took to the car so well. But this year kind of coming in, I feel that I’m kind of playing that role now a little bit. I’ve definitely helped (Burton and Herbst) come up to speed at race tracks and they’ve actually helped me too.”

Burton recalled how advice from Jones helped in his effort to win in his first start Auto Club Speedway on Feb. 29.

“I asked him, ‘Hey Brandon, how far are you going to drive in (to the turns)?’ and I ended up winning … and he said ‘I’m never telling you how deep I drive in ever again!'”

But with where the Xfinity Series is going tomorrow, Jones’ experience will be invaluable.

2) Darlington Rookie Stripes

When the green flag drops on Tuesday night’s Xfinity race, it will be a big moment for select drivers in the 39-car field.

Among the competitors will be 11 – more than 1/4th of the field – who have never taken a lap around Darlington. Not in practice, qualifying or a race.

The first lap will truly be the first lap of action at Darlington for Burton, Jesse Little, Herbst, Anthony Alfredo, Myatt Snider, Kody Vanderwal, Colby Howard, Ronnie Bassett Jr., Mason Massey, Joe Graf Jr. and Colin Garrett.

“I think I’d lie if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about it,” said Burton. “But the cool thing is, everybody’s nervous about it. Everyone’s in the same boat. … There’s an advantage to have in your head that everyone’s in the same boat and you just have to do your job the best you can do it.”

As for Burton’s crew chief, Ben Beshore, he doesn’t have too many concerns about Burton’s first Darlington experience.

“I felt that way about Fontana too and he showed up there and hauled ass,” Beshore said. “He’s really quick to adapt and uses the tools that he has available to him before he gets there. Whether it be studying data or notes that I sent him or running in iRacing races, he seems to be able to use that to his advantage.”

Little, a rookie driver for JD Motorsports, took on the mindset of “they’re gonna race with or without me” as he dove into his preparation of watching film, taking notes, talking to drivers and making laps on iRacing. Meanwhile, he reiterates to himself “I’m gonna go there and I’m gonna be cautious.”

When it came to advice from drivers, he didn’t have to go far.

“Definitely lean heavily on my roommate/landlord,” Little said.

That would be Cole Custer, current Cup Series rookie and winner of last year’s Xfinity race at Darlington.

“I’ve picked his brain as much as I can,” Little said. “I can’t really think of a better Xfinity driver to do it than him. … He’s helped me out quite a bit … (Making sure I’m not) psyching myself out, not being too timid or scared, you know, in a sense of, ‘It is Darlington, but if you approach it this way it’s really just another racetrack and you know, you’ll enjoy it.'”

Unlike Burton and Herbst at JGR and Alfredo at Richard Childress Racing, Little won’t make his first visit to Darlington in top equipment.

That’s something that concerns former JD Motorsports driver, Ross Chastain.

“I probably feel … the worst for Jesse, just knowing that situation and how important practice is,” Chastain said. “Even though in a normal situation going there he would only have one set of tires, he would have limited laps, but he would have 10 quality laps to learn the track and he has nothing now and you’re going to get thrown into a random draw starting position. That’s tough. Just because I know that.

“Harrison, Riley, those guys … They know their car is going to go down in the corner and it’s going to do normal stuff. Jesse’s, it can do something that he’s not expecting. And I just know that. He’s probably got the biggest, biggest challenge, but when you catch them or you’re passing them or they’re passing you, you just have to trust them.”

3) Briscoe’s Opportunity

The turnover in the Xfinity Series driver ranks this year stands out when looking at the results of the 2019 race at Darlington.

None of the top five finishers – Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Dale Earnhardt Jr. –  are entered in Tuesday’s race, with Custer, Reddick and Bell now rookies in the Cup Series.

That’s leaves Chase Briscoe as the highest-finishing returning driver from last year. In his first start at Darlington, he started fifth and finished sixth.

Count the 25-year-old driver among those excited about a lack of on-track preparation for the race.

“I actually like the no practice and qualifying deal,” Briscoe said. “I feel like that kind of fits my team’s style. You know, last year I wouldn’t have said that at all. But this year, even at the end last year we were just always really good off the truck.”

Briscoe heads into Darlington with three tops 10s, including one win (Las Vegas) through four races this season.

“I feel confident that we’ll be good,” Briscoe said. “And you know, there’s a lot of inexperienced guys in the field as far as never even racing at Darlington. I don’t have a ton of experience there, but at least I know what to expect. I think the biggest question mark for myself is (it’s) at nighttime now. How much does that change things? Last year, it was a pretty hot race and we were slick and sliding around. That fits my driving style a lot more.”

Briscoe also is concerned about there being more grip on the track, a result of Sunday’s Cup race. It’s a situation Xfinity drivers are not used to.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous about the added grip that we’re gonna have, just because I feel like that kinda kind of evens the playing field,” Briscoe said. “Regardless of the temperature outside, it’s still gonna be slick to a certain extent.”

4) What day is it?

While the Cup Series competed on Sunday, Justin Allgaier watched from a distance.

The JR Motorsports driver said it was “hard to not get your blood pumping” as he’s in the final days of prepping for his own return to racing.

Allgaier and the rest of the Xfinity Series race at Darlington and then six days later will race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the oval.

“Some of the most difficult races that we have on the schedule now on the Xfinity Series side … are kind of happening in a short amount of time,” said Allgaier, who has nine Xfinity starts and two Cup starts at Darlington. “I’m looking forward to it. I think that it’s going to be a little bit different being (at Charlotte) on a Monday. Obviously, Memorial Day. It’s going to be super, super weird.

“But somebody the other day asked me if it threw me off to race on a Tuesday at Darlington. I said ‘Well, to be honest with you, because of this pandemic, I don’t know what day it is half the time anyways. So a Tuesday and a Saturday, they’re kind of the same.”

With the Charlotte race being held at night, rather than in the day like the last oval race there, Allgaier predicted that the track will have “a little bit more character” to it.

“We all call bumps character, we know that,” Allgaier said. “The weather has been kind of hot, cold, hot, cold here in North Carolina, obviously. And that a lot of times has more affect than just all the time hot or all the time cold.”

5) Over prepared

When Jeff Meendering was first able to enter the JGR shop after stay-at-home orders were lifted in North Carolina, his first stop was his office. The next was to check on the condition of the car Brandon Jones would race at Darlington.

“Obviously, we shuffled some our cars around a little bit,” Meendering said. “Our car racing at Darlington was originally going to be our Atlanta backup car. And the car we were taking to Texas originally is now going to Charlotte. So we’ve had to shuffle some stuff around, looking at the condition our cars are in and what makes sense with a limited crew to put it out.”

Despite the 10-week shutdown, Meendering’s team had been able to put together car builds through at least August. But Meendering and much of the NASCAR world didn’t know where they’d be racing beyond Charlotte until last week. On Thursday, NASCAR announced Cup and Xfinity would race at Bristol Motor Speedway the weekend after the Charlotte races.

“Those builds we were just basing them off of what the original schedule was,” Meendering said. “We got pretty deep into the original schedule. … We might have built for races that we don’t even go to now. I feel like we’re over prepared for whatever could get thrown at us.”

 

Entry lists for NASCAR iRacing events at North Wilkesboro, Martinsville

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With NASCAR scheduled to return on May 17 at Darlington Raceway, the planned conclusion of NASCAR’s iRacing season will take place this week, with events held on a virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.

The planned finale of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series will occur at 3 p.m. ET Saturday at North Wilkesboro on Fox and FS1.

Among the initial 28 entries is Jeff Gordon, who won the final Cup Series race there in 1996. Not among the entered drivers is William Byron, who has won three of the six Invitational races so far. Also, Matt DiBenedetto has been replaced in the No. 21 car by Jon Wood, the member of the Wood family who once competed in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

Gordon will be joined in the race by fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte. They are the only two entries in the race who competed in Cup races on the real North Wilkesboro.

Martin Truex Jr. is also entered in his first Invitational race.

According to NASCAR.com, the race will be 160 laps. Drivers will get one reset. There will be manual cautions and a maximum of three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. Christopher Bell and Timmy Hill, who finished second and third at Dover, will start from the rear. The top 10 qualifiers will be inverted to start the event.

Invited Race Entries (Subject to change)
#3 Austin Dillon
#4 Kevin Harvick
#6 Ross Chastain
#8 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
#10 Aric Almirola
#11 Denny Hamlin
#13 Ty Dillon
#14 Clint Bowyer
#17 Chris Buescher
#18 Kyle Busch
#19 Martin Truex Jr.
#20 Erik Jones
#21 Jon Wood
#24 Jeff Gordon
#31 Tyler Reddick
#34 Michael McDowell
#37 Ryan Preece
#38 John Hunter Nemechek
#41 Cole Custer
#49 Chad Finchum
#51 Garrett Smithley
#52 JJ Yeley
#53 Joey Gase
#66 Timmy Hill
#77 Parker Kligerman
#89 Landon Cassill
#95 Christopher Bell
#TBD Bobby Labonte

Friday Night Thunder

Like the Pro Invitational Series, this weekend sees the scheduled conclusion of the iRacing series dedicated to non-Cup drivers with a race at a virtual Martinsville Speedway at 8 p.m. ET Friday on eNASCAR.com/live.

The series is open to drivers from the Xfinity, Gander RV & Outdoors Truck, NASCAR Peak Mexico, Pinty’s, Whelen Euro and ARCA series.

The virtual race will be conducted under the lights and will be 125 laps.

The format: Single-car qualifying will set the grid for four, 10-lap heat races to determine 24 spots in the feature. A 15-lap last-chance qualifier race will determine six spots in the feature for a total of 30 cars.

The order of the first 10 cars in the feature will be inverted before the green flag. There will be one reset, manual cautions and three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.

Entry list is subject to change

Alex Labbe

90

Angela Ruch

OO

Anthony Alfredo

33

Austin Cindric

22

Bayley Currey

74

Brandon Brown

68

Brett Moffitt

23

Chase Briscoe

98

Chase Cabre

4

Christian Eckes

81

CJ McLaughlin

39

Derek Kraus

19

Donny Lia

O7

Drew Dollar

O15

Drew Herring

3

Grant Enfinger

O98

Harrison Burton

20

Jeb Burton

8

Jeffrey Earnhardt

50

Jesse Iwuji

36

Joe Graf Jr.

80

Josh Berry

88

Josh Bilicki

99

Justin Allgaier

7

Kaz Grala

29

Kyle Weatherman

54

Landon Huffman

75

Logan Seavey

67

Matt Mills

5

Myatt Snider

93

Noah Gragson

9

Ruben Garcia

27

Ryan Ellis

78

Ryan Truex

40

Ryan Vargas

51

Scott Stenzel

63

Spencer Boyd

0 2

Stephen Leicht

25

Stewart Friesen

52

Thad Moffitt

46

Todd Gilliland

38

Ty Majeski

45

Ty Gibbs

18

Will Rodgers

55

Stefan Parsons

83

Saturday Night Thunder at virtual Dover: Start time and more

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The virtual Dover NASCAR weekend begins with Saturday Night Thunder.

This is the fourth Saturday Night Thunder event. Logan Seavey won at virtual Bristol. Josh Berry won at virtual Richmond. Landon Huffman won at virtual Talladega.

Tonight’s event will be run with digital Xfinity Series cars. The event is open to Xfinity, Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, ARCA Menards Series, NASCAR Peak Mexico Series, Pinty’s Series and Whelen Euro Series drivers.

Today’s event is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET.

FORMAT: One-lap, single-car qualifying will set heat race grids. There will be four 10-lap heats. The top  six finishers from each heat race advance to the feature event. There will be a 15-lap last chance race. If more than 40 cars are entered, there will be a second last chance race. Two drivers will transfer from the last chance qualifier to the main event. All heat races will have no cautions. Drivers are allowed one reset in the heat races.

FEATURE RACE: The feature is scheduled to have 26 cars and be 125 laps. The top five finishers from last weekend’s race at virtual Talladega – Landon Huffman, Josh Berry, Joe Graf Jr., Tommy Joe Martins and Spencer Boyd – will start at the rear provided they make the feature. Cautions will be determined by race officials. Drivers are allowed one reset. There will be up to three attempts at a green/white/checkered finish.

ONLINE: Watch at eNASCAR.com/live and on NASCAR’s YouTube Channel.

DRIVERS SCHEDULED TO COMPETE (Subject to change): 

NAME

CAR #

Alex Labbe

90

Angela Ruch

00

Anthony Alfredo

33

Austin Cindric

22

Bayley Currey

74

Blake Koch

57

Brandon Brown

68

Brett Moffitt

23

Chase Briscoe

98

Chase Cabre

4

Christian Eckes

81

CJ McLaughlin

39

Derek Kraus

19

Donny Lia

07

Drew Dollar

015

Drew Herring

3

Elliott Sadler

099

Gus Dean

56

Jeb Burton

8

Jeffrey Earnhardt

50

Jesse Iwuji

36

Joe Graf Jr.

80

Josh Berry

88

Josh Bilicki

99

Josh Williams

92

Justin Allgaier

7

Justin Haley

11

Kaz Grala

29

Landon Huffman

75

Logan Seavey

67

Matt Mills

5

Michael Annett

1

Myatt Snider

93

Noah Gragson

9

Raphael Lessard

04

Ruben Garcia

27

Ryan Ellis

78

Ryan Truex

40

Ryan Vargas

51

Sam Mayer

21

Scott Stenzel

63

Sheldon Creed

74

Spencer Boyd

02

Stephen Leicht

25

Stewart Friesen

52

Thad Moffitt

46

Todd Gilliland

38

Tommy Joe Martin

44

Ty Majeski

45

Tyler Ankrum

26

Will Rodgers

55

Entry lists for NASCAR’s iRacing events at Dover International Speedway

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With the return of real life NASCAR hoped for in the coming weeks, the end of NASCAR’s Pro Invitational iRacing Series looms.

The sixth event of the series, the Finish Line 150, will be held at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on a virtual Dover International Speedway and will air Fox and FS1.

Last week’s top-three finishers – Alex Bowman, Corey LaJoie and Ryan Preecewill start at rear and the top 10 qualifiers are expected to be inverted.

The race is scheduled for 150 laps. Drivers will have one reset. There will be manual cautions and three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.

Jeff Gordon, who made his debut in the series last weekend, is not on the entry list for the race.

Invited Race Entries
#1 Kurt Busch
#2 Brad Keselowski
#3 Austin Dillon
#4 Kevin Harvick
#6 Ross Chastain
#8 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
#9 Chase Elliott
#10 Aric Almirola
#11 Denny Hamlin
#12 Ryan Blaney
#13 Ty Dillon
#14 Clint Bowyer
#15 Brennan Poole
#17 Chris Buescher
#18 Kyle Busch
#19 Bobby Labonte
#20 Erik Jones
#21 Matt DiBenedetto
#22 Joey Logano
#24 William Byron
#31 Tyler Reddick
#32 Corey LaJoie
#34 Michael McDowell
#37 Ryan Preece
#38 John Hunter Nemechek
#41 Cole Custer
#48 Jimmie Johnson
#49 Chad Finchum
#51 Garrett Smithley
#52 JJ Yeley
#53 Joey Gase
#66 Timmy Hill
#77 Parker Kligerman
#88 Alex Bowman
#89 Landon Cassill
#95 Christopher Bell
#96 Daniel Suarez

Saturday Night Thunder

Saturday night will feature another edition of Saturday Night Thunder, an event for non-Cup Series drivers. The event is open to Xfinity, Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, NASCAR Peak Mexico Series, Pinty’s Series, Whelen Euro Series and ARCA drivers.

The event is set to begin at 8 p.m. ET with a live stream at eNASCAR.com/live and NASCAR’s YouTube channel.

The main event will be 125 laps. The field will be capped at 26 drivers. After qualifying, the field will be set through four, 10 lap heat races.

Among the entries for the event is retired NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler.

NAME

CAR #

Alex Labbe

90

Angela Ruch

00

Anthony Alfredo

33

Austin Cindric

22

Bayley Currey

74

Blake Koch

57

Brandon Brown

68

Brett Moffitt

23

Chase Briscoe

98

Chase Cabre

4

Christian Eckes

81

CJ McLaughlin

39

Derek Kraus

19

Donny Lia

07

Drew Dollar

015

Drew Herring

3

Elliott Sadler

099

Gus Dean

56

Jeb Burton

8

Jeffrey Earnhardt

50

Jesse Iwuji

36

Joe Graf Jr.

80

Josh Berry

88

Josh Bilicki

99

Josh Williams

92

Justin Allgaier

7

Justin Haley

11

Kaz Grala

29

Landon Huffman

75

Logan Seavey

67

Matt Mills

5

Michael Annett

1

Myatt Snider

93

Noah Gragson

9

Raphael Lessard

04

Ruben Garcia

27

Ryan Ellis

78

Ryan Truex

40

Ryan Vargas

51

Sam Mayer

21

Scott Stenzel

63

Sheldon Creed

74

Spencer Boyd

02

Stephen Leicht

25

Stewart Friesen

52

Thad Moffitt

46

Todd Gilliland

38

Tommy Joe Martin

44

Ty Majeski

45

Tyler Ankrum

26

Will Rodgers

55

Landon Huffman wins chaotic Saturday Night Thunder at virtual Talladega

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Twice in the final laps the leader was turned, allowing Landon Huffman to win the Saturday Night Thunder iRacing event in overtime at a virtual Talladega Superspeedway.

“It feels like this race win almost means more than a lot of my real-life wins because opportunities in the real world have been tough to come by, so to be able to race against all these guys in an event like this that iRacing puts on is pretty special,” Huffman said on the eNASCAR broadcast after the victory. ”

Huffman, who typically competes in Late Models at Hickory Motor Speedway, has five career Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series starts since making his series debut in 2017.

Josh Berry finished second and was followed by Joe Graf Jr., Tommy Joe Martins and Spencer Boyd. Drivers competed in Xfinity Series cars around the digital 2.66-mile track.

Tyler Ankrum led in the final laps before a shove by Logan Seavey turned Ankrum, setting up the overtime finish. Ankrum finished 10th.

In overtime, Anthony Alfredo was leading to begin the final lap when a shove from Berry turned Alfredo, who finished 27th in the 40-car field.

“I was able to push Anthony to the lead and he kind kept trying to play back and forth between the two lanes,” Berry said on the eNASCAR broadcast. “Coming out of the tri-oval there he went to the bottom, which kind of was what I was expecting him to try … and then he kind of eased his way back up and I got into his right rear and hooked him. I hate that it happened, but it’s just a product of this kind of racing.”

Berry was the fastest qualifier. Kyle Weatherman and Chase Briscoe won their heat races. Each heat race had a crash that collected several cars. Berry was among those collected in a crash at the start of the second lap in the opening heat race and earned one of the final transfer spots. A crash on the last lap of the second heat stretched the field and Ty Gibbs took the final transfer spot with a smoking car.

RESULTS

FEATURE

  1. Landon Huffman
  2. Josh Berry
  3. Joe Graf Jr.
  4. Tommy Joe Martins
  5. Spencer Boyd
  6. Brett Moffitt
  7. Austin Cindric
  8. Scott Stenzel
  9. CJ McLaughlin
  10. Tyler Ankrum
  11. Ryan Truex
  12. Jeb Burton
  13. Brandon Brown
  14. Will Rodgers
  15. Christian Eckes
  16. Ryan Vargas
  17. Todd Gilliland
  18. Ryan Ellis
  19. Jesse Iwuji
  20. Justin Haley
  21. Drew Herring
  22. Logan Seavey
  23. Matt Mills
  24. Derek Kraus
  25. Josh Bilicki
  26. Myatt Snider
  27. Anthony Alfredo
  28. Bayley Currey
  29. Josh Williams
  30. Justin Allgaier
  31. Stephen Leicht
  32. Drew Dollar
  33. Donny Lia
  34. Chase Briscoe
  35. Chase Cabre
  36. Harrison Burton
  37. Kyle Weatherman
  38. Ty Gibbs
  39. Alex Labbe
  40. Noah Gragson

HEAT 1

(Top 20 transferred to main event)

  1. Kyle Weatherman
  2. Christian Eckes
  3. Bayley Currey
  4. Anthony Alfredo
  5. Justin Allgaier
  6. Noah Gragson
  7. Josh Bilicki
  8. Jesse Iwuji
  9. Drew Herring
  10. Tommy Joe Martins
  11. Josh Williams
  12. Brandon Brown
  13. Harrison Burton
  14. Donny Lia
  15. Landon Huffman
  16. Tyler Ankrum
  17. Jeb Burton
  18. Chase Cabre
  19. Josh Berry
  20. CJ McLaughlin
  21. Gus Dean
  22. Blake Koch
  23. Thad Moffitt
  24. Jeffrey Earnhardt

HEAT 2

(Top 20 transferred to main event)

  1. Chase Briscoe
  2. Alex Labbe
  3. Ryan Vargas
  4. Scott Stenzel
  5. Will Rodgers
  6. Matt Mills
  7. Drew Dollar
  8. Austin Cindric
  9. Derek Kraus
  10. Spencer Boyd
  11. Justin Haley
  12. Stephen Leicht
  13. Logan Seavey
  14. Brett Moffitt
  15. Ryan Truex
  16. Joe Graf Jr.
  17. Ryan Ellis
  18. Todd Gilliland
  19. Myatt Snider
  20. Ty Gibbs
  21. Kaz Grala
  22. Angela Ruch
  23. Ruben Garcia Jr.
  24. Michael Annett