Michael Annett could not care less how many passes happened Saturday (Feb. 16) at Daytona International Speedway. At the end of the day, he left a NASCAR Xfinity Series winner.
Annett led a race-high 45 laps and stayed in control down the stretch to win the 2019 NASCAR Experience 300. Teammate Justin Allgaier also served as a blocker behind him, unable to get a run of his own. The duo came single file to the line on a day when the track struggled to ever break in a second groove.
A track known for the parity of restrictor plate racing produced a parade. Cars struggled to run on the inside line with several drivers kicked to the back for trying. The end result was the lead pack content to ride in place, also making it a track position race where pit road played a major role in sorting out the field.
That’s where Annett put himself in position. After suffering through an uncontrolled tire violation earlier in the day, he started on the front row following the race’s final caution with 45 laps to go. From there, he paced the field the rest of the way, leading more laps than he had in any season of his 12-year NASCAR career.
The win came in Annett’s 230th start and the start of his third year driving for JR Motorsports. One year after missing the Xfinity Series playoffs, he’ll be locked in with six months to spare.
“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” Annett said in Victory Lane. “Now, we can go get a bunch of them. This is amazing. [JR Motorsports] stuck with me through the hard times. Our slogan this year is one team, one dream, one goal. This is one of them, so we’re starting off good.”
Annett’s car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., credited the addition of Travis Mack to the team. Mack, the crew chief for Kasey Kahne last year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, was released from that role midseason. Earnhardt seized upon the opportunity and added Mack to the newly reformed No. 1 team in order to help Annett develop as a driver.
“I knew I needed him here with Michael Annett and that combination would be great,” Earnhardt said. “We’re seeing the results of that today. Michael has a great chance on seeing the best days of his career this season.”
Allgaier was forced to settle for second, unable to get a run on the final lap. But his frustration with finishing runner-up took a back seat to the good feelings he had for his teammate’s first win.
“He’s tried so hard, to see the effort the put in, especially in the offseason,” Allgaier said. “It’s really, really cool.”
The drivers understood the racing wasn’t exactly the edge-of-your-seat type. But there was a lot of head-scratching as to what, if anything, could be done differently.
“Just a weird day,” said third-place finisher Brandon Jones. “So hard to get a pack to form, it was just kind of follow the leader a little bit. It was really hard to be offset to a car and use the draft to our advantage.”
“I felt the race was fairly calm,” Allgaier added. “I thought the inside line was going to be the place to be… don’t have a good answer for [why it never developed]. For whatever reason, we just couldn’t make [those runs].”
“We all worked hard,” he said, also thanking new backer Larry’s Lemonade. “Sponsorship is what made this thing go and we got really updated on our equipment and just had a great finish.”
Austin Cindric ran fifth, running well in the draft despite losing teammate Brad Keselowski midrace to a bizarre broken roof flap. The escape hatch issue actually caused pieces to fly off, creating a caution not long after the third stage began.
“I felt like I was back in the ’50s,” Keselowski said. “Running a convertible on the beach.” His team failed to finish in 37th place.
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) February 16, 2019
The race also had just four caution flags one year after this race set a new Daytona Xfinity record with 12.