Michael Annett earns first Xfinity win in season opener at Daytona

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Michael Annett won Saturday’s Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway to earn his first career series victory in his 230th start.

The JR Motorsports driver led the final 45 laps and beat teammate Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones, Ryan Sieg and Austin Cindric.

Annett, 32, had never led more than 16 laps in a season before Saturday.

“It just means so much,” Annett said. “It’s been two really tough years in this series for me, just not getting the results I wanted to. Last year was really tough, we even missed the playoffs. I put a ton of work into myself and my race craft … everything this offseason to make myself not have any question of if I was here and ready to go win a championship.”

He previously won at Daytona in the ARCA Menards Series in 2008. In that race, Allgaier also finished second.

“I couldn’t beat him then and I couldn’t do it today,” Allgaier told Fox Sports 1. “To see Michael get his first win, he’s tried so hard and to see the effort and time that he’s put into it, especially this offseason, it’s really, really cool.”

The win is the fourth for JR Motorsports in the last six season openers at Daytona (Regan Smith, 2014; Chase Elliott, 2016; Tyler Reddick, 2018 and Annett today).

Annett and Allgaier also delivered JRM its fourth 1-2 finish in the race.

The victory by the No. 1 team is also the first for Annett’s crew chief, Travis Mack.

“I think it took a while for (Annett’s) approach to racing to change,” JRM co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “He had to learn how to race in good equipment. It’s a different mentality and a different approach.

“He’s certainly not the same guy that we hired … a lot of that has to do with the team around him, specifically with Travis Mack.”

Mack, a former car chief for Earnhardt in the Cup Series, was the crew chief for Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 car in Cup last season before he was let go after 15 races. He led Annett’s team over the last 13 races of the Xfinity season.

“I thought immediately when that happened that we needed to pair him with Michael if Travis was interested in that opportunity,” Earnhardt said. “Travis’ assertiveness and personality would drive Michael and sort of light a fire under Michael.”

Mack said his tenure at LFR made him feel like “a teenager that kind of ran away from home for a little bit and realized it wasn’t better out there. …

“When Dale called me and had me come in I was super excited. I’ve been on-board ever since.”

A year after it had nine non-stage cautions, the 120-lap race was slowed only twice outside of stage breaks for a debris caution and a one-car spin.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Haley

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ross Chastain

Click here for the race results.

Click here for the point standings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on Feb. 23 on Fox Sports 1.

JR Motorsports announces driver, crew chief lineup

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JR Motorsports announced Monday the driver, crew chief lineup for its four Xfinity Series entries this season, including two returning drivers.

The entries include the full-time efforts of veterans Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett, in addition to rookie driver Noah Gragson.

Alllgaier, the senior driver with the team at four years, will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet under the direction of crew chief Jason Burdett, who has led the team since 2015.

At 32, Allgaier is the oldest driver at JRM. He’s older than Annett by 18 days.

Annett is back in the No. 5 Chevrolet for his third season with the team. He is paired with crew chief Travis Mack, who took over crew chief duties on the No. 5 for 13 of the last 14 races in 2018.

Gragson makes the move to the Xfinity Series after two seasons in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Gragson will step into the No. 1 Chevrolet to replace Elliott Sadler who stepped away from full-time racing after 2018. Gragson will have crew chief Dave Elenz and the crew that worked with champion Tyler Reddick in 2018 on the No. 9 team.

The No. 9 team will be a multi-driver effort this season anchored by eight races with Zane Smith in the cockpit. The team will be led by first-time crew chief Taylor Moyer. Moyer joins JRM after four years with Hendrick Motorsports as a race engineer for Kasey Kahne and William Byron.

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JR Motorsports makes crew chief change for Michael Annett’s team

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JR Motorsports announced Monday that Travis Mack will take over as crew chief for Michael Annett‘s team immediately.

Annett enters this weekend’s Xfinity race at Watkins Glen International 40 points out of the last playoff spot. He is coming off a 14th-place finish last weekend at Iowa Speedway. Annett has not had a top-10 finish this season.

Mack started the season as Kasey Kahne‘s crew chief in the Cup Series for Leavine Family Racing but was relieved of his duties in June. Mack had been with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports since 2004 before moving to Leavine Family Racing. During 2014-15, Mack was the car chief on JR Motorsports’ No. 9 entry.

Mack replaces Jason Stockert, who will move to another role in the organization.

“We are constantly building toward the team’s future,” said Ryan Pemberton, JRM’s director of competition, in a statement. “At this point in the season it was time for us to evaluate where the No. 5 team was and where we wanted it to be moving forward. It became clear a change was necessary.

“I want to thank Jason for all he’s done for the organization in building the No. 5 team from the ground up. But we’re also looking forward to a new chapter with Travis. He’s a familiar face to many within the company and we’re excited to put his talents to use with Michael and the Pilot Flying J team.”

Said Mack in a statement: “I’m very grateful to be able to return to JR Motorsports. To have been here previously as car chief and now to come back as a crew chief is a tremendous opportunity. I can’t thank Dale Jr. and Kelley enough for that. I’m looking forward to getting started with the No. 5 team this weekend.”

 

Kasey Kahne: Crew chief change result of Travis Mack, owner not seeing ‘eye-to-eye’

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Kasey Kahne said he and former crew chief Travis Mack were “fine” but that Mack and team owner Bob Leavine “didn’t see eye-to-eye.”

Kahne made the comments Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway.”

Leavine Family Racing announced it was replacing Mack with team engineer Jon Leonard on June 16. Mack was in his first year as a crew chief after working as a car chief at Hendrick Motorsports.

Last week’s race at Sonoma was Kahne’s first with Leonard as interim crew chief of the No. 95 Chevrolet. They finished 20th.

“We got along fine, we worked really hard together,” Kahne said of Mack. “He was really open to my feedback and working with me. I was open to him and the direction he was pushing along. He was learning a lot and working hard at the same time with the team on a race weekend. I was behind Travis the entire time. He and Bob didn’t see eye-to-eye in a few areas. … I feel they got off-track with each other more than anything else. Because of that they made a change.”

On June 20, Leavine shared his side of the dismissal, saying it wasn’t an “off-the-cuff” decision and that he kept Kahne “in the loop continually.”

“When I hired him last year, it was about giving him the best car we could,” Leavine said. “I just didn’t feel to a point we were doing that. And you just can’t keep doing the same thing if you expect a different result.”

In the 15 races before Mack’s departure, Kahne’s average finish was 24th. His best result was 17th three times (Texas, Talladega and Dover).

Kahne, who is 28th in points, hasn’t provided the team with an improvement from last year when Michael McDowell drove the No. 95.

Last year, McDowell had an average finish of 23.7 entering Sonoma. He went on to place 14th at Sonoma and then fourth the following week at Daytona.

“Overall, Bob’s looking at the big picture, looking at things he feels will help our team the rest of this season and in the future,” Kahne said. “I don’t like being part of those changes, I don’t think anyone does, but that was something they wanted to do.

Leavine Family Racing owner: ‘We just had to make a change’ at crew chief

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When addressing the crew chief change last week on Kasey Kahne‘s No. 95 Chevrolet, Leavine Family Racing owner Bob Leavine invoked a popular saying used to define insanity.

“You just can’t keep doing the same thing if you expect a different result,” he said.

LFR announced last week Travis Mack had been relieved of his duties as crew chief on the No. 95 after just 15 races.

Lead engineer Jon Leonard was named interim crew chief.

Leavine made his comments Tuesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Late Shift.”

“It wasn’t just off-the-cuff, it was well thought out,” Leavine said. “Kasey, I kept him in the loop continually because it was about, when I hired him last year, it was about giving him the best car we could. I just didn’t feel to a point we were doing that. And you just can’t keep doing the same thing if you expect a different result.

“As you well know when you sign up for these jobs what’s expected. You don’t get any participation trophies. Results rule. It’s long hours and a lot of time away from home and those type of things. So we just had to make a change. Obviously it wasn’t changing the driver. Our driver’s been doing a great job.”

The change came with Kahne sitting at 28th in the points ahead of this weekend’s race at Sonoma Raceway and the team not showing any improvement at this point compared to last season with Michael McDowell, who was 27th in points.

Through 15 races, Kahne’s average finish is 24th. His best result is 17th three times (Texas, Talladega and Dover).

Last year, McDowell had an average finish of 23.7 entering Sonoma. McDowell had finishes of 15th (Daytona 500) and 13th (Kansas). He went on to place 14th at Sonoma and then fourth the following week at Daytona.

Leonard assumed the crew chief role after serving as interim crew chief for McDowell in the final five races of last season. In those races, McDowell’s best finish was 18th at Kansas.

“I’m excited and thankful for the opportunity,” Leonard said in a team release this week. “I’ve had a little experience at it before, so I can appreciate and understand what is expected and needed. A lot of my role will stay the same – set-up preparation, history analysis, and practice decisions from an engineering standpoint.”

Leonard said the biggest change in process for him will be in pre- and post-race for car/spec changes and decisions and part/component selection.

“At the end of the day, all the decisions are going to be connected to my name,” Leonard said. “It’s not always going to be easy, and I’m sure it won’t always be right, but being able to own your mistakes, and grow from them is what is important. Being able to be a leader and bring this group together (including Kasey) will bring us success. I’m also lucky to have a great second engineer who I trust and can step into a lot of my former engineering role to help with some of my responsibilities both at the shop and at the track.

“Ben (Lynch) and I work well together and have a very similar background. I’m really looking forward to what this No. 95 team can achieve for the rest of the season. We have a good bunch of guys who want to compete with the big boys – and that’s what we’re here to do starting this weekend.”

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