Michael Annett’s watershed moment came long before first victory

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 16: Michael Annett, driver of the #1 Pilot Flying J/American Heart Association Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

To Michael Annett, the criticism was justified.

He was the anchor on the JR Motorsports roster, and not in a positive sense. While a succession of teammates won races and contended for championships, Annett was winless in two full seasons with the team, posting just one top-five finish (a second at Road America) in 66 starts.

Annett got a regular roasting on social media for his lack of performance.

“The results weren’t there, honestly,” Annett said during a question-and-answer session on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, host track for Saturday’s Rinnai 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race (2 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). In really good equipment, just sitting there watching Justin (Allgaier) win five races last year—all my teammates the last two years being up front and contending for wins…

“And we just weren’t. It was simple to say that I deserved everything—maybe not as harsh as some people could be. They could have been a little more supportive, but it’s just the nature of our sport, and that’s what we signed up for.”

It was particularly uncomfortable for Annett to attend JRM’s end-of-year championship lunch with a resume bare of notable achievements.

“We weren’t toasting anything I accomplished,” he said. “Not only that championship lunch, but we have quarterly lunches where we go over the stats of all the teams. There was nothing that I was really proud of that they could announce.”

That all changed last Saturday, when Annett took the No. 5 JRM Chevrolet to Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway, where he claimed his first trophy in his 230th career Xfinity start and earned a trip to the Playoffs in the process.

“To finally get that monkey off the back—you could see the look on my guys’ faces,” Annett said. “I think the hardest thing was looking around on those days, knowing they’re working just as hard or harder than the guys on the setup plate next to us.

“They didn’t have any ‘win’ stickers on their boxes. They didn’t have a banner with their picture on it hanging above the shop. It was just so cool to give that back to those guys. They’ve deserved it for such a long time, and they’ve stuck with me.”

Much has been made of the dramatic change in the level of commitment and dedication Annett has shown during the offseason, but the driver said the moment of truth and self-examination came much earlier, when he failed to make the Xfinity Playoffs. Right up until the September cutoff race at Las Vegas, Annett expected to be competing for the series title.

“It started right after Vegas, when we didn’t make the Playoffs,” he said. “We kept thinking, ‘We’re going to turn this around, we’re going to get on a roll here, get those points, get ourselves into the Playoffs. When that checkered flag dropped and we weren’t in, it was like, ‘We’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure this never happens again, we don’t have this feeling again

“I’m disappointed in myself that it takes a moment like that to get your head screwed on right, but it did happen, and it could have gone a bunch of different ways. It definitely went toward the positive and put us where we are today.”

Greg Engle