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XFINITY SERIES: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here’s a peek at Texas through Charlotte.

Cup Driver Domination

While there were five winners from five different teams in the first two months of XFINITY Series competition, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took over victory lane through April and May.

Joe Gibbs Racing went two in a row with Erik Jones winning Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway to bring their title win total up to three. Kyle Larson snagged a second win for Chip Ganassi Racing at Richmond, with Aric Almirola giving Biagi-DenBeste Racing a victory at Talladega. Lastly, Ryan Blaney scored the win this past weekend at Charlotte for Team Penske’s second of 2017.

Although Cup Series drivers swept the past two months, the series regulars were close to succeeding with a pair of runner-ups.

As we near the Chase, there will be more XFINITY competitors scoring victories with the upcoming stand-alone events, including Iowa Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

JRM Remains at the Top

10 events completed this season, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much as JR Motorsports still take up the top three positions as they have since the third race of 2017.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, currently six points ahead of Justin Allgaier. William Byron rounds out the squad, having fallen 57-markers behind Sadler.

Their strength shows in the numbers, with Allgaier posting the best average finish through April and May at 9.8 on the heels of two runner-ups, while Sadler posted the second highest at 11.6. Sadler has performed better, though, as removing the wreck at Charlotte bring his average down to 5.75.

JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway with Michael Annett currently ninth in points. While he posted, three top-10’s in the past five events, a wreck at Charlotte Motor Speedway hurt progress in moving forward.

Terrific Tifft

If you are looking for someone to watch, keep an eye on Matt Tifft as he was the third-highest performer over the past three races, boasting an average of 14.2 with a season-best finish of sixth at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is running the complete schedule for the first time, after making 11 starts over the past two years with five top-10’s. With steady improvement each week, he believes he could be the next driver to score his first career victory.

“There’s so much that goes into competing for wins in this series, and I feel like we’re getting close to being able to do that,” he told Popular Speed last month. “You have to build from somewhere, and I felt that Texas was great for us to build from a solid run. You have to have that as a team to build everybody’s confidence up and to be able to keep on rolling through the next stretch here. As you know, we have a couple of weeks here and then a few weeks off, but after that, there are 20 something weeks in a row, and you better be hitting it by then.”

Chase Bubble Watch

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series Chase, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in.

Sitting 10th in points, Blake Koch only has scored one top-10 this year, but having 62 points over J.J Yeley in 13th should have him and those ahead confident in their chances. With that said, the current outlook includes Sadler, Bryon, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Tifft, Annett and Koch joining the pair of aforementioned winners.

Cole Custer has scored three top-10’s this year, but wrecks at Bristol and Talladega have slipped him back to 11th in the standings, currently 54 points ahead of Yeley.

Dakoda Armstrong has yet to score a top-10 this season and only has a 36-marker gap to keep the final qualified spot.

The shock of the bubble watch is Richard Childress Racing teammates Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan sitting 15th and 16th. With at least 37 points to make up a piece, they will need to start performing or find victory lane during the summer to keep their hopes alive.

No Consistency for Custer

Although Custer’s name was mentioned in the bubble watch, he is a driver who should qualify for the Chase – if he performs to expectations.

With 10 races in the books for 2017, he has posted three top-10’s as noted, including a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
Each weekend, he places the No. 00 Ford in the top-10 with intentions of a solid finish. However, wrecks and pit penalties have resulted in five finishes outside of the top-20 this season.

Custer acknowledged their struggles, saying they needed to get better.

“We had pretty solid cars the last couple weeks, and even in Atlanta we had a good car just haven’t gotten the finishes,” he said in April. “We haven’t done that. It was me making mistakes and just having random things happen. If we can keep these solid runs going, we will work our way back up there in the points. I feel like we can do this. We have had fast cars the last couple of weeks. We will just keep plugging away at it.”

Being a new team in the series, Stewart-Haas Racing has shown they can run up front on a weekly basis. But if consistency doesn’t start happening, they could fall outside of the Chase cut-off.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Sparks Energy 300

The second restrictor plate race of the season for the NASCAR XFINITY Series delivered the intensity and unpredictability that Talladega Superspeedway is known for.

From numerous multi-car crashes to a heart-pounding finish that came down to the final lap, Saturday afternoon featured pack racing at its best.

Stage Carnage

When the end of the stages neared, the level of aggression picked up. The two “big ones” unfolded with less than five laps remaining in each of the stages, collecting numerous series regulars who were vying for the championship points up for grabs.

William Byron, Daniel Hemric, and Ryan Reed all came into the race in the top-eight of the driver’s standings and were among those taken out in the accidents.

Carnage has been prevalent through first two plate races of the season. Through the intensity associated with the stages and the impact of less downforce on the cars, bumping in the draft has become treacherous and has caused many of the crashes.  

Ford Power

Race winner Aric Almirola and third-place finisher Joey Logano had two of the strongest cars in the field. They worked together in the draft for much of the event and led 29 of the 133 laps.

Logano was shuffled out of the front group numerous times but always recovered and returned to the front, attesting to the No. 22 Ford’s performance and his restrictor plate racing prowess.

Almirola’s No. 98 Ford seemed to be one of the few cars capable of challenging Logano, and he took advantage of this by taking the lead as Logano fell back late. This is the second consecutive year Almirola has captured a XFINITY Series plate race victory as he won last July at Daytona.

Staying Out of Trouble

In February at Daytona, four of JR Motorsports’ five entries were involved in crashes. The organization performed remarkably better on Saturday as only William Byron exited the race early following an accident.

Two of the team’s cars earned season-best results as Elliott Sadler came home second and Michael Annett placed seventh. Justin Allgaier finished eighth, and Kasey Kahne ended up 15th after a late-race penalty put him a lap down, concluding a much cleaner day for the JRM cars.

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EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

XFINITY SERIES: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break out some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here’s a peek at Daytona through Fontana.

Five Races, Five Different Winners

A lot has been made about five different winners this season so far in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, the same could be said for the XFINITY Series, as well. Each week, a new face has visited victory lane this season, with no team able to win multiple events.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed put together a run en route to winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. Cup regulars Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Joey Logano (Team Penske) took victories the following weeks, before series regular Justin Allgaier (JR Motorsports) captured the Dash for the Cash and the win at Phoenix International Raceway. Kyle Larson completed the string with a win for Chip Ganassi Racing last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Can the trend continue? It is possible as there’s plenty of series regulars running up front weekly, like Elliott Sadler and Darrell Wallace Jr. There’s also other Cup regulars who will be running XFINITY events, such as Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski.

It is highly unlikely a sixth straight different team will win, though, with each of the series’ frontrunners having scored their first victory of 2017. However, Stewart-Haas Racing could make it happen at Texas Motor Speedway with Cole Custer and Kevin Harvick. There’s also a possibility for Richard Childress Racing to win, based on the strength of rookie Daniel Hemric and Austin Dillon this year.

No Race Wins Still for the No. 22

Since Keselowski won at Texas Motor Speedway in October 2015 behind the wheel of the No. 22, the car has yet to return to victory lane. Team Penske has scored wins – three for Logano, but those came with the No. 12 entry.

The organization’s top car going 40 races without a win is unheard of, considering it was just a couple years ago they were winning multiple events and owner’s championships.

Truthfully, it’s only a matter of time before they break the drought. Since October, they’ve scored 20 top-fives, including a runner-up the past two weeks with Blaney (Phoenix) and Logano (California). They’ve also led 168 laps this year with the No. 22 entry in five races, versus leading 146 last year in the last 14 races.

JRM Reigns Supreme

Last year, the XFINITY Series was led by JR Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, with Daniel Suarez capturing the championship for JGR. This season, it appears Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s organization is the cream of the crop. Their drivers currently take up the top-three spots in the standings with veteran Sadler leading William Byron and Allgaier.

Nobody is caught off-guard, though, as both Sadler and Allgaier made the Championship 4 last year in the series and are working with the same guys in 2017. Byron may be the new suspect to JRM this year, but recall he won seven truck series races last year for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

The focus is now getting Michael Annett up in fourth behind them, who currently sits eighth in points. The Iowa native hasn’t been too far off, scoring four top-15 finishes this year with a best of ninth at Phoenix.

“We need to be up where our teammates are,” Annett told POPULAR SPEED earlier this month. “We’ve got three teammates that are in the top-five in points. We need to be up there with them and have the same goals as they do, which is to get as many points as possible, win races, be in there Chase at the end, and be in the group going into Homestead for the championship. I think looking at all the resources that we have and the teammates that I have, the guys I am surrounded by, if that wasn’t our goal, then I shouldn’t even be showing up to the track each weekend.”

Way to go, Rookies!

When word got out about who was moving up to XFINITY for 2017, a lot of people predicted a great Rookie of the Year battle. So far, those predictions are right. Five races in the books, and there’s a pair of rookies in the top-10 in points.

Beyond Byron, as mentioned above, Hemric is seventh in points after scoring two top-10s in the first five races. Hemric proved he’d be a driver to watch this season by running in the top-five throughout the day at Phoenix International Raceway en route to seventh.

Custer is just outside of the top-10 (12th), but it’s not for lack of effort. He’s running in the top-10 each race but has finished outside of the top-20 the past two weeks due to crashes. Before that, he had finished 10th at Atlanta and 11th at Las Vegas.

One of these drivers could score their first career victory at Texas in a couple of weeks as the track has been kind to rookies – just ask Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Trevor Bayne and Earnhardt Jr.

The Improvement of Roush Fenway

During the off-season, Roush Fenway Racing committed to making their team stronger by moving personnel around and hiring some new faces. It appears their efforts have paid off so far.

Last year, Reed finished eighth in points with Darrell Wallace Jr. in 11th. Five races in the books this year, Reed currently sits fourth with Wallace fifth. Reed only scored one top-five last year – but has already done so this year, while Wallace scored four top-10s in five races compared to nine in 33 last year. Notably, Wallace has finished sixth for four straight weeks.

So what now? While Reed has visited victory lane, Wallace still needs to make that happen. Given that he’s just outside of the top-five, it’s only a matter of time before his team figures out how to break through.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

ANNETT: “We Need to be Where Our Teammates Are”

Returning to the XFINITY Series this season, Michael Annett didn’t start off the season as well as he would’ve hoped, with no top-10 finishes in the first three races. Annett expected that, calling it growing pains after having spent the last five years out of the series.

“It’s getting back to these cars, this horsepower, and how they drive different than a Cup car,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “Just trying to get used to that again and what I need to feel in practice to be good at the start of the races. I think that’s where we’ve struggled the most. We don’t get the car to where we want it to halfway through the race, and these races are just too short to dealing with that issue, especially with the segments with the way they are now.

Everything is starting to come together, though. This past weekend, he was able to post a ninth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway for his first top-10 of 2017. Annett says the finish is not only big for him, but for the team as it gives them confidence moving forward.

“That’s one of the biggest things in this sport,” he said. “As soon as you get confident, it’s hard to take it away, and you get that in your head that you can get the job done, and the team gets excited as their hard work is paying off. As they say in this sport – once you learn how to win and get the first win, many more come. You could say the same for top-10s. I’ve seen it in the past when I was in my first year at Richard Petty Motorsports. I kept looking for my first top-five in the series, and we got that first one, and got five more right away.”
While it’s early in the year and some say there’s lots of time to get better, the pressure seems to be on Annett now to perform, knowing how important points are, perhaps even more than this year than previous with the stages.

“Points are more important than anything because even though what Cup drivers can do in XFINITY races, I think there’s going to be a lot of Cup guys winning races,” he said. “Therefore, points are going to matter whether you make the Chase or not. It’s not going to be everybody in that Chase will have a race win.”

It’s why Annett feels not only do they need to start knocking down more wins, but also running up front throughout the stages due to the top-10 getting points. The JR Motorsports driver noted that while he has finished top-21 in each race completing all the laps, his teammate Justin Allgaier has wrecked twice but was tied with him in points due to the stage points.

Even though he admits right now the new format is hurting his team’s performance, he likes the format in how it rewards you for your effort throughout the weekend.

“If you do your work in practice on Friday and then go out on Saturday morning and qualify well making it to the third round, you put yourself in a really good opportunity to get points in the first segment,” he said. “If you did your work on Friday and have a car good on long runs, you can look at getting points in the second segment and so on. I think it rewards the team that puts that whole weekend together, more than anything.”

He’ll get his next opportunity to earn more points this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, a track where he has posted a top-20 finish in each of his previous six starts, including a track best of sixth.

“It’s just a really fun race track,” he said. “We just came off Phoenix where there’s no place like Phoenix. Well, there’s really no place like California. We always talk about how rough it is, how slick and wore out, and always bring up the seams and how people struggle when they cross over the seams and you see a lot of cars getting loose. Then you look at down at turns three and four, (and) you see cars with all four tires below the apron; you just don’t see that at two-mile tracks. It’s unlike any other, but it’s really fast. It really lacks grip, and it just puts on really good racing. You kind of just go into the corner, pick a spot, and wherever you end up after sliding across the track, you pick up the gas, and you’re wide open again. It’s just a really fun track. All of us drivers love tracks that lack grip and California is definitely one of them.”

If he can put together another top-10, it’d allow JR Motorsports to possibly have all four of their drivers in the top-five in points as Elliott Sadler currently leads William Byron by 11 points, with Allgaier in fourth following his win at Phoenix. As of right now, Annett is sitting ninth in the series standings.

“We need to be up where our teammates are,” Annett said. “We’ve got three teammates that are in the top-five in points. We need to be up there with them and have the same goals as they do, which is to get as many points as possible, win races, be in there Chase at the end, and be in the group going into Homestead for the championship. I think looking at all the resources that we have and the teammates that I have, the guys I am surrounded by, if that wasn’t our goal, then I shouldn’t even be showing up to the track each weekend.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

 

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Commentary

Three Takeaways: DC Solar 200

Justin Allgaier snapped an 80-race winless streak by winning the DC Solar 200 on Saturday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway.

The win was Allgaier’s first since 2012 and secured his spot in this season’s XFINITY Series playoffs.

Allgaier cashes in:

In addition to the victory, Allgaier also took home the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Allgaier’s weekend was about as flawless as it gets. After qualifying fifth, he ran in the top five all day while leading a race-high 85 laps.

Momentum now appears to clearly be on Allgaier’s side with a win and back-to-back top-five finishes heading into next week’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

JR Motorsports flexes muscle:

JR Motorsports as a team enjoyed success across the board in Saturday’s race at Phoenix.

In addition to Allgaier’s win, William Byron finished fourth after starting from the pole, and Elliott Sadler finished fifth. Michael Annett ended up ninth.

Sadler maintains an 11-point lead over Byron in the championship standings heading into Fontana next week.

If the early season success is any indication it appears that JRM could be well-represented come November at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Championship 4.

Suarez’s day ends early:

Saturday was none too kind to reigning XFINITY champion Daniel Suarez.

After failing to get through pre-qualifying inspection, he was forced to start from the rear before the green flag.

Suarez quickly made his way up into the top 20 by Lap 10 but his day ended on the very next lap after hard contact with the outside wall leaving him to settle for a 39th place finish.

“I don’t really know what happened. I just know that I wasn’t racing yet,” said Suarez. “The 51 (Jeremy Clements) hit me in the right rear, and then I had a flat tire, and I hit the wall. Just a little disappointed at the way that those guys race back there. It’s way, way too early in the race to be racing like that. We have more than 150 laps to go, so it’s way, way too early.”

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

Allgaier on JRM: “Four Teams Capable of Winning Races Every Week”

After a successful season with both their full-time drivers qualifying for the inaugural XFINITY Series, JR Motorsports made the decision to expand to four full-time entries for the 2017 season.

While some teams haven’t had the best success with all four cars at once in a NASCAR division, Justin Allgaier believes things will be different for JRM this year.

“We have four teams that are capable of winning races every week, and I feel all four teams are going to work really well together, and if you tell me that all four of us make the playoffs, it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said.

The confidence for Allgaier comes from the drivers the team will have this upcoming season.

“From my standpoint, I’m excited to get Michael (Annett) back as a teammate, excited to get William (Byron) as a teammate, and as I said, I’m happy to have Elliott (Sadler) as an existing teammate,” he said. “We jelled together near the end of last year really well, and the dynamic of our team could do that again.”

Last year, Sadler finished second in the series standings after scoring three wins and 29 top-10s in 33 races with JR Motorsports, to go along with Allgaier’s 27 top-10s en route to finishing third in the standings. The team is now set to add Michael Annett, who posted 34 top-10s from 2009 to 2013 in XFINITY before moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The last member of the squad could easily be this year’s Rookie of the Year as William Byron joins the team, after scoring seven Camping World Truck Series victories last year for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

While it marks Allgaier’s first time working with Byron, he has previous experience with Annett as the pair were teammates at HScott Motorsports.

“Me and Michael worked great together at HScott,” Allgaier said. “We’ve kind of ran our NASCAR careers together. We’ve traveled up the ranks and back to the XFINITY Series on a similar schedule. We get along pretty well, have the same thought processes, and been through the same trials on the Cup side.”

Going on the theory the more knowledge you have is better, Allgaier feels the combination of drivers and crew chiefs they have in place will produce results.

“If you tie all those together, then you have a great base. But if you add four drivers that are hungry to go out there and win races and a championship, that’s going to be awesome,” he said.

He also noted it’s expansion from three cars to four, as the team has run a third car full-time the past couple of years. Dubbed the All-Star car, the No. 88 was used for Cup Series regulars Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and last year Chase Elliott, to split time with young up-and-coming drivers. While both Sadler and Allgaier ran well last year, so did the No. 88 car with the team scoring a pair of victories. There were also a couple of events where they entered four cars and managed to place all four in the top-10 at the end.

“I think Dale and Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, and Mr. Hendrick and everyone involved – everybody is on board to help it grow,” Allgaier said. “If we can grow at the rate we did last year, I think the sky is the limit. I really think between Chevrolet, our resources, and the amount of effort put into it – I know everyone comes in and says they’re excited, but I’m really happy about the progress that JR Motorsports has made in the off-season and really excited about having four cars full-time and a fifth car part-time.”

Starting off the season with a good run at Daytona will certainly keep positive thoughts afloat, and there’s no reason to believe they can’t make it happen. JR Motorsports has shown speed on the restrictor plate tracks before, including Sadler winning at Talladega Superspeedway last April. Allgaier has also run well on the plate tracks, posting a second-place finish last summer at Daytona.

“The optimism side of me says we finished second, so we had a good day. But the pessimistic side of me says we finished second, but we were so close to winning the race,” he said. “I think, for all of us, Daytona and Talladega are so much fun. I think the enhancements to the rules this year will make the races more interesting and the fact that now we will not only have a battle to the last lap but to three different parts of the race to get to the front spot.

“The other part is the plate tracks have been good for JR Motorsports as a whole. They’ve been good for Dale Jr. We’ve got some things that as we run, I feel confident in our restrictor plate program. I have a great spotter in TJ Majors. He does Dale’s stuff on Sundays – he does it for me in the XFINITY Series races. I feel we have all the pieces to the puzzle.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

HScott Motorsports Will Not Compete in NASCAR in 2017

After months of speculation, Harry Scott, owner of HScott Motorsports officially announced on Monday that the team would not compete during the 2017 NASCAR season.

In a deal finalized last week, the No. 15 charter used for Clint Bowyer, which was owned by HScott Motorsports, has been sold to Premium Motorsports. The charter that was leased for the No. 46 car and Michael Annett was sold by Premium Motorsport to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car that will be driven by Erik Jones next season.

Bowyer will be moving to the No. 14 Ford and StewartHaas Racing this upcoming season while Annett will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series.

Scott released a statement regarding the decision not to field a team next season.

“One thing I learned about NASCAR is that it is a ‘people business.’ I will forever be grateful to the men and women who worked tirelessly to make HScott Racing successful. This includes our dedicated employees, sponsors and partners. We were fortunate to have the support of world-class sponsors like Brandt, DC Solar, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Pilot Flying J, and 5 hour ENERGY. Our racing program would not have been possible without the assistance of Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports, and Chevrolet.

“I love this sport and being part of it. I invested in NASCAR because I truly believe it represents the best racing competition in the world and the best people in all sports.”

“Looking back, I will always be especially proud of the unprecedented success of our NASCAR K&N Series teams, including four consecutive championships and for the lifelong friendships that were forged over the last seven years. My hope is that we were able to develop drivers that will thrive at the highest levels for years to come.”

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Annett to Join JRM in 2017

The driver lineup at JR Motorsports continues to grow as the team announced Friday that veteran driver, Michael Annett, will be joining the team in 2017.

“I’m excited for this opportunity with JR Motorsports,” said Annett.  “Dale Jr. and Kelley have done a great job building this organization.  They have put the right people in place and have a championship to their name. I look forward to joining them and competing for wins and a championship next season in the XFINITY Series.”

The Iowa-native will compete in the No. 5 with his longtime partner, Pilot Flying J, serving as primary sponsor.

“Pilot Flying J is excited to continue our long-standing relationship with Michael,” said Ken Parent, president of Pilot Flying J.  “We look forward to working with JRM and wish Michael the best of luck and success in the 2017 season.”

Annett, who has spent the last three season in the Sprint Cup Series, is no stranger to the XFINITY Series. From 2009 to 2013, he found success in the series tallying seven top five’s and 34 top-10’s while competing for, Germain Racing, Rusty Wallace Racing, and Richard Petty Motorsports.

“What a great opportunity it is to bring Michael and Pilot Flying J on board with JR Motorsports,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, general manager of JR Motorsports.  “To expand our presence in the NASCAR Xfinity Series truly shows the commitment JRM and our sponsors have made to the series.  By partnering with Pilot Flying J, all the pieces are in place to run four competitive, full-time cars for a championship next year.  We’re confident this will make our organization even stronger.”

Annett will join a roster of drivers that includes Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and William Byron as full-time drivers. As well as, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kasey Kahne will run a select number of races in a fifth entry.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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News

Michael Annett Shifts to HScott Motorsports

Looking for a change entering his sophomore Sprint Cup Series season, @MichaelAnnett is making the shift to HScott Motorsports for 2015. Annett will run the full series schedule as a teammate to @J_Allgaier.

“The addition of a second team increases HScott’s overall ability to better utilize its resources at track and at the shop to be even more competitive,” team owner Harry Scott Jr. said. “I’m proud to have seen Justin truly mature as a NSCS driver last year, and I can’t wait to see what he does this year.

“Like Justin, Michael is coming off his rookie year following six years of competition in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Michael is a quality driver with a great future at HScott Motorsports. These drivers compliment one another and will make great teammates.”

Scott added during the NASCAR Media Tour that being able to have a second full-time team will allow HScott Motorsports to increase their team size with “double the resources and more data points”.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with (competition director) Steve Addington and he has a solid plan to make the best out of both cars this year, and utilize our resources to get him better,” Scott commented. “I feel like we can be a top-20 team consistently with the top-25 finishes last year and that’s our goal this year.

Last season, Annett drove for Tommy Baldwin Racing, finishing 32nd in points with a best finish of 16th at Talladega Superspeedway. He previously made 163 NASCAR XFINITY Series starts, scoring seven top-fives and 34 top-10s.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to drive for HScott Motorsports,” Annett said. “I am impressed with the way Harry is building his NASCAR teams. Harry and competition director Steve Addington have a long-term vision and I’m honored to be part of it. I’m also looking forward to having Justin as a teammate.”

Part of the reason Annett made the decision to move to HScott Motorsports was watching the success that Allgaier was able to have last season.

“I’ve been around this sport from when Harry was getting into it, and to see every organization that he has come into, whether K&N, truck series, it doesn’t take very long for them to have success,” he commented.

“I think we saw that last year with having a brand new Cup team and I think it was just about mid-season and Justin and I started as rookie last year and we were parked next to each other, ad he kept getting further and further away from me to ask questions. Just to see the success that they have experienced in that second half, I don’t think they wanted to see the season end.”

Annett brings with him, Pilot Flying J as the primary sponsor with backing from Cypress Associates, Inc., Allstate Peterbilt Group and Northland Oil.

No crew chief was announced for Annett at the time of the announcement, but the team hopes to have one in place in the next few days.

“We’re still working on an identifying a crew chief for Michael,” Scott said. “He came to us pretty late, but it was an opportunity that we wanted to jump on and it’s been a bit of a thrash getting everything together. The guys back at the shop have a great attitude and are working their tales off to provide a good effort for this additional car.”

Harry Scott Jr. entered into his first season as a Cup Series owner last year after buying Phoenix Racing from James Finch in September of 2013. His rookie driver Justin Allgaier would finish 29th in points with a season-best 15th place finish taking place twice at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Allgaier is excited to work with Annett, commenting that it is going to be huge to have someone to bounce ideas off of during the weekend, and having a second car to accumulate extra data.

“Going to the race tracks last year, we were on our own island if you will,” Allgaier explained. “The set-ups, and the things we were trying to learn, we weren’t able to push the envelope because we were focused on what was working and trying to make that go forward.”

“This allows us to get outside of the box a little bit. Michael and I have grown up racing each other. We’ve been in competition on the race track and always seemed to get along really well, so to have him on board really adds strength and adds a lot to our program so I’m excited. I think it’s definitely a good addition.”

Scott also co-owned Turner-Scott Motorsports with Steve Turner, but the team would cease functions as a result of a disagreement between owners.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Michael Annett Planning Steady Ascension Up the Cup Ladder

By Matt Weaver (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) — Just five races into his NASCAR Sprint Cup career, Michael Annett has developed a game plan that may see him ascend to the upper echelon of the sport.

For the young and relatively underfunded, the recent trend in NASCAR is for prospects to take a ride with a mid-level team and gain experience rather than toil around in the Nationwide Series. That hasn’t always been the case as there was an inherent fear that a driver could get typecast as uncompetitive driver while with a lesser team.

But Annett says that Kurt Busch changed the game by competing for victories with Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row over the past two seasons.

“I think a lot of people saw what Kurt was able to do,” Annett said. “Especially in the No. 78  and if you can take some equipment that people believe doesn’t belong with the top tier teams and run door-to-door with them for a stretch, you can definitely turn some heads and raise some eyebrows and get some attention.

“That’s what we’ve set out to do this year.”

He has set out to do it with Tommy Baldwin Racing and has improved on the grid each week since the season started. Through five races, he has posted finishes of 37th, 34th, 29th, 26th and 19th.

And while he doesn’t expect the trend to continue into contention, the ever-realistic Annett really does believe he can continue to improve with the team and continue to “shock people.”

Marcos Ambrose: The Last Remaining International NASCAR Superstar

Tommy Baldwin Racing retooled over the off-season, bringing in Daytona 500 winning crew chiefs Todd Parrott and Kevin “Bono” Manion and brought in a new-look driver lineup that included Annett and Reed Sorenson. With a new formula in place, Annett believes TBR can win on both restrictor plate tracks and a short track like Martinsville or Richmond, given the right circumstances.

“Obviously we can win races when looking at places like Daytona or Talladega while posting top top-20s everywhere else,” Annett said. “And we have expectations and goals and we’re pretty much meeting them — and we want to keep meeting them — and then raise our goals as a result.”

Between the two new crew chiefs and respective drivers, Annett believes Baldwin has more resources for his teams than ever before which  is why he believes a win could take place at places other than Daytona or Talladega.

“I think short tracks are a discipline where we can thrive,” Annett said. “I think that sometimes a place like this (Martinsville) is a crap-shoot like a superspeedway. Richmond is a place that has come to me and is one of my best tracks and it’s a short track where time at the wind tunnel and engineering isn’t as important aero package is huge.”

A victory would be the ultimate reward for Annett’s sponsors, Flying J and Pilot who have sponsored Annett since his days in an ASA Late Model. Annett’s father, Harold, ran TMC Trucking, making the association with a truck stop and gas station a logical fit.

“I was fortunate to have a very small decal on my ASA Late Model and that has slowly grown into a Cup program on Sundays. They aren’t a sponsorship to me they are my friends so it’s great to see that relationship grow and hopefully we can get them into Victory Lane.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN