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Michael Annett feels like ‘I belong here’ after best start of Xfinity career

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If Michael Annett‘s dog could talk.

The owner of three dogs, Annett has had Paisley, a miniature golden doodle, for 13 years.

That’s more than the entirety of his full-time NASCAR career, which began in 2009.

Along with his girlfriend at the time, Paisley was a passenger in Annett’s car in February during the seven-hour drive back from Daytona International Speedway a day after Annett scored his first career Xfinity Series win.

“She’s seen it all,” Annett told NBC Sports. “I’m sure she was pinching herself, too. It was just pretty special to have that time in the car, honestly. It wasn’t a bad thing I drove because it gave me those seven hours to really digest everything we did the day before is pretty special.”

Annett’s win locked him into the Xfinity playoffs, which he was unable to take part in last year in his second season with JR Motorsports. Annett and what was then the No. 5 team finished 16th in a season that saw Annett work with two crew chiefs for most of the campaign’s 33 races.

The second crew chief, the man who leads Annett’s No. 1 team now, was Travis Mack.

A former car chief at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne’s crew chief at Leavine Family Racing, Mack joined Annett’s team after 19 races had been completed.

The change came as the series entered Annett’s worst stretch of races.

“He came in and we had three road courses (Mid-Ohio, Road America, Watkins Glen) and Bristol right away,” Annett said. “I told him leading up to it, ‘This is where I’m the worst, road courses. I’m sorry they’re throwing you to the wolves like this.'”

Annett didn’t finish better than 12th at the road courses, but he snagged a seventh-place finish at Bristol, his first top 10 through 22 races. He’d round out the season with three, including a ninth in the finale in Miami.

“We left Homestead everybody was just really pumped for February to come,” Annett said.

Annett approached the ensuing offseason differently than at any other point in his career.

“A lot of guys when you leave Homestead we kind of scatter,” Annett said. “Honestly, the whole offseason I was at the shop almost every day. Team lunches with guys, dinners with the guys. The crew chief, Travis Mack and I, working out every morning together. Just always bouncing ideas back and forth and if it wasn’t about racing it was team camaraderie and just building that relationship, wanting to make sure everyone on that 1 team’s going to hold the end of the rope for you if you’re hanging by it. That’s what you need, you gotta to have everybody bought into the same goal and I think just building that relationship and unity`has been a huge benefit for us.”

It didn’t just benefit Annett at Daytona.

After eight races, Annett is off to the best start of his NASCAR career. He has two top fives (Daytona and Las Vegas) and five top 10s, two shy of the seven total he had when he returned to Xfinity from Cup in 2017.

“Going to Atlanta and being fast in practice, didn’t have the best race, finished 12th. Last year at that point, man, we’d be high-fiving for a 12th,” Annett said. “Just continued to grow and it’s still continuing to grow. We’re not even close to where we want to be right now.”

Annett’s performance in 2018 came back to bite him early in the season when two of the first three races had qualifying rained out. That caused the field to be established by last year’s owner points. He started 16th at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

As a result Annett missed out on getting more stage points than he thought he was capable of.

“That put us in a pretty big hole right away,” Annett said. “But even those races, honestly is when we got the most (12 total). It’s hard to say. I’m not a genie or anything, but I feel like we’d have more bonus points at this point, but I still feel like those were some of our best races for some reason.”

With his Daytona win and being locked into the playoffs, Annett’s team has taken gambles he’s never been able to, like staying out on old tires in the middle of Stage 1 at Richmond. It didn’t work out and Annett finished the race in 13th.

“It took a little bit (of adjusting) just because I was hungry for those top fives and when you don’t have a top-five car you know if it doesn’t work out you’re going to be outside the top 10,” Annett said. “That part’s been tough. Really had to get in my head and figure out what’s going to help us go through rounds in the playoffs. Once I really got that in my head it was easy.”

What has Annett learned about himself as a driver in the months since Mack was brought on board?

“I think that just that I belong here,” Annett said. “At some point you beat yourself down long enough you start to wonder if you remember how to drive a race car or if you belong. But once you start to show that consistency and you’re passing cars that you know that could have a chance to win a race and you’re driving by them, it’s moments like that. When you’re driving past race-winning cars that’s when you start to get that confidence and ‘Yeah, you still remember how to do this.'”

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.