Michael Annett was poised to bring home another top-five or top-10 finish in Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, running a strong race with a fast Pilot Flying J Ford Mustang all evening. Unfortunately, a late-race incident didn’t allow the No. 43 team to earn the finish they deserved.
Annett’s race began from the 18th position. An early caution on Lap 12 allowed the driver to discuss the handling of his car with crew chief Philippe Lopez, telling him that he was “loose” coming off the corners. But he said the problem wasn’t bad enough to come in for adjustments and the team stayed on track without coming to pit road. Restarting in 17th, Annett began a long green-flag run of passing cars, climbing up to 12th by Lap 44 when the second caution of the night came out.
Annett asked Lopez for some help with side bite, and the No. 43 team responded with chassis and air pressure adjustments on their first stop of the day. The request was repeated about 40 laps later when the third yellow flag of the race flew and Annett came to pit road for further adjustments. The Pilot Flying J Ford Mustang responded, restarting in 14th and climbing to ninth by Lap 142 when it was time for the team’s first green-flag stop of the race. Annett peeled off on Lap 143 to come down pit road for four tires and fuel in what was expected to be their final stop of the night. He rejoined the field in 14th, ready to work his way back into the top 10.
Just a handful of laps later, a spinning car brought out the fourth caution flag of the night. Annett told his crew chief that his Ford Mustang was handling well and didn’t need any adjustments. But with only one other car behind them on the lead lap, Lopez told his driver to bring the No. 43 to pit road for a fresh set of “sticker” tires to give them as much help as possible to gain track position. With a set of new Goodyears, Annett took the Lap 159 restart in 15th and started his charge once again.
One by one, he picked off cars, reaching the top 10 by Lap 167. He was up to eighth when the final caution flag of the night flew on Lap 176 for another car into the wall. Lopez told his driver to stay out on track, where NASCAR scored Annett in the seventh position for the restart. Taking the green flag on the bottom of the track, Annett looked for room to continue pushing his way to the front. He had moved to the top when things got crowded. Two other cars racing below made it three-wide, and the No. 43 and the No. 3 of Austin Dillon made contact, getting both loose. Both drivers saved their cars from wrecking, but the incident caused Annett to fall back to 18th.
He was able to gain one more position in the remaining 16 laps to cross the line in 17th. Despite snapping his eight-race streak of top-10 finishes, Annett remains fifth in the championship standings heading to Phoenix next week.
Annett’s Thoughts after the Race: “Our Pilot Flying J Ford Mustang was fast all night. It was disappointing to have it end the way it did. We just got into a three-wide situation that wound up hurting us and sent us backward. If it had happened earlier, we could’ve rebounded and come back like we’d been doing all night, but there just weren’t enough laps left. But I’m proud of our streak of top-10s. We’ll forget about this and get back up front next week in Phoenix.”