Richard Petty Motorsports driver Michael Annett is one of the most promising young stars in the Nationwide Series. He currently sits sixth in the Nationwide standings with a best finish of third at Daytona in July of this year, and has already set career highs in top-5's and top-10's.
While covering last weekend's race at Richmond International Raceway, I had the opportunity to interview Annett, driver of the No. 43 Ford in the Nationwide Series. Our interview took place on pit road during Nationwide qualifying, which means if you listen to the interview the audio becomes almost unintelligible every 23 seconds or so because of the cars roaring by.Despite that slight difficulty, it was clear to me that Annett is a mature, respectful, and sponsor-savvy young man with a bright future ahead of him in NASCAR. He went on to finish fifth at Richmond that night, his third straight top-10.
Q. You've finished worse than 11th only once since Road America in June and all your top-5's have come during that span. Is there anything you can point to that helped get things turned around?
"The biggest thing was when we went into the weekend at Kentucky [June 29]. I've always had a lot of confidence there and run really well there and I knew that Ford had run well there the year before. So the confidence I had in myself mixed with bringing a really good race car right off the truck, from the first laps in practice all the way through the best qualifying effort of the season, all the way to the race, we ran top-10 all race and brought it up to a top five by the end.
"From then on, I tell a lot of people, sometimes confidence is the most important thing, and we got everyone excited and kept that roll going. I know every time we come to a track, even if we're not fast right off the truck, I know by the time practice is over and at least half way through the race, we're going to have a car that can finish in the top 10, and at that point it's just up to me to get it there."
Q. Are there any tracks you're looking at in particular where you think you can get a win over the rest of the year?
"We ran top 10 all day here about five months ago the first time here at Richmond. You look at the schedule, we had a top five at Chicago, and obviously Kentucky where I think this whole streak kind of started. So here, Chicago, Kentucky, coming up soon on the schedule, are the tracks we're looking at and know if we can just improve a little bit we'll be right there to compete for a win."
Q. What are your plans for next year?
"I had an option on my contract to race for Richard Petty Motorsports, and they just recently picked that. Obviously really excited to be driving the No. 43 car next year in the Nationwide Series. We put this deal together so late this year, about a month before Daytona, so it'll be a lot of fun to take everything we've learned this year, to have a whole offseason to improve on everything and do everything we want to. To be able to go into Daytona with a seasoned team, a team that's even more prepared than we were this year and to be a championship competitor."
Q. What are your thought on the sponsorship climate, how it's harder than ever to get a top ride?
"I've been fortunate enough from the time I've started racing to have a relationship with Pilot and Flying J. It's definitely opened up a lot of doors that for other drivers are shutting because they don't have the sponsorship backing. It's unfortunate, because there are a lot of good race car drivers that are sitting on the sidelines and are not in good equipment right now.
"The biggest thing is just to put the right people around you that are going to go out there and to try opening up doors that some people never even though about to bring into our sport. We've seen that a little bit this year. We've recently had a couple of new sponsors like Old Wisconsin on the car who have never had any relationship with NASCAR at all before. It's things like that, making the phone calls and trying to get new sponsors excited, and it might not be a full season deal, but if you can get them in there for one race and make them happy, they might come back for more. It's really tough right now and obviously we appreciate the sponsors who have been in the sport a long time and plan to stay around a long time, and it's just up to the community and the business people we've put in place to find new ones."
Q. Are there any drivers in the garage who have mentored you and given you advice or encouragement?
"Dave Blaney with Bill Davis Racing for sure. I started out racing sprint cars for Bill Davis Racing since that was the background of my family, dirt track sprint cars, so Dave Blaney was a hero of mine and to be at the same camp with him was wonderful. There are different drivers that you look to for different things, for example, obviously [RPM driver] Marcos Ambrose for road courses. Or, not necessarily as a mentor, but with the season Ricky Stenhouse had last year, with all the Ford meetings and the debriefings we have, we can learn a lot from a guy that had the success that he did last year. I try to take in as much as I can because we're in the same equipment, so I try to put that to use.
"But if you look at a mentor, you've gotta look at my boss [Richard Petty], so if you're going to have a mentor, it's him. It's not necessarily driving-wise or on-track stuff, it's more just how he holds himself, how he conducts himself. You look at everything he's done for our sport, and try to mimic that and try to give back like he has."
Q. What are your passions in life outside of racing?
"I'm fortunate enough to do what I'm doing right now. In the position I'm in to be able to give back. Pilot and Flying J are where I got started with St. Jude, so I try to give back as much as I can, to get kids to the race track and help out in a professional way. I also like to have fun. I'm a big lake enthusiast. I like to be on the water, so if I'm on the lake doing anything, I'm happy, just being around friends. We have a very stressful work environment, so it's good to get away and have fun."
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