Michael Annett on 2017 season: “Definitely subpar”

Matthew T. Thacker/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Ask Michael Annett how his first year with JR Motorsports has been, and he’ll tell it to you straight.

“Definitely subpar,” Annett told Kickin’ the Tires after Saturday’s Super Clips VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway.

Annett entered 2017 with promise, having stepped down from a two-year stint with the now-defunct HScott Motorsports in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to run with one of the XFINITY Series’ marquee teams. Given his experience, the 31-year-old was one of a handful of drivers that appeared to have the potential to contend for a title this season.

Instead he arrived at Darlington just 11 points clear of the playoff bubble after a summer of struggles and Jeremy Clements’ surprise Road America win that took one potential postseason appearance on points away – essentially negating the strong, second-place performance from Annett in the same race.

The Iowan admitted his precarious position in the standings effected the way his No. 5 team approached the weekend.

“We weren’t thrilled about coming into Darlington being in the playoff position we are, just because so many things can happen here,” Annett said. “It’s a tough track to be aggressive at when you’re trying to have safe, consistent points days. Not a place to take too many chances.

As has often been the case this year, Darlington went poorly for Annett. Early damage sent the veteran to his 12th finish outside of the top 15 this season – the ninth occurrence of such a result in the past 12 races.

The JR Motorsports newcomer actually improved his playoff odds, increasing his gap on 12th-place Dakoda Armstrong to 23 points after the Hoosier’s 29th-place struggle. But Annett refused to look at the weekend as a positive after another tough day.

Yeah, we gained on (Armstrong) but we got a ton of damage in the second segment,” Annett said. “I felt like we had a pretty decent car in the first segment, but the second segment crash just totally killed the nose of the car, especially the right-front corner. We kept having to free up the rear end to make the car turn, and all that did was make us too free everywhere else.

“Definitely a struggle all day. We gained points, but as a team we know we’re a lot better than 17th here. Disappointing.”

For Annett, the only thing more frustrating than a crash-filled day in Darlington was the summer slump that preceded it.

“We don’t want to be on the playoff bubble,” Annett said. “We don’t think we should be. We had a bad month of July with some mechanical issues and a couple DNFs. But even with that we shouldn’t be having to play it safe three races before the playoffs.”

While Annet has struggled, hi JR Motorsports’ teammates have all surged, filling the top three positions in the XFINITY Series standings. Elliott Sadler tops the standings. Rookie Willam Byron has three race wins.

Asked for what Annett can do to improve and join his teammates in contending for a title, Annett focused one thing – stage points.

“We just need to qualify better,” Annett said. “We’ve gotta put down some good, fast laps early on in practice, set the tone for the whole weekend. Go up on Saturday morning, qualify well and just start getting stage points.

“That’s the biggest thing. We’ve missed out on so many this year. It’s amazing where we’re at in points just because we’ve missed so many stage points. Once we get to the playoffs, our focus is just to get as many of those as we can.”

Stage points have been a weakness for Annett this year. The sixth-year NXS driver has just 13 stage points leaving Darlington – good for 24th among series regulars.

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