Michael Annett won a numerologist’s delight on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
After an offseason change from No. 5 to No. 1 on the sides and roof of his JR Motorsports Chevrolet, Annett held off teammate Justin Allgaier in the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at the 2.5-mile superspeedway to claim his first victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in his 230th start.
“Eight years in the series — this is amazing,” said Annett, who struggled through a 2018 season that failed to produce a single top-five finish. “I couldn’t have done it without these guys (the crew). They’ve stuck with me through the hard times when everybody counted us out and wonders why I get to drive this car, and I think we showed it today. They worked their tails off on this.
“We got the 1 in Victory Lane. Our slogan this year is ‘One team, one dream, one goal.’ This was one of them, so we’re starting off good.”
Brandon Jones ran third in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra in the debut race for that model. Ryan Sieg ran fourth, followed by Austin Cindric and Christopher Bell.
Allgaier tried to pair up with Jones on the final lap but couldn’t mount a sustained run on his teammate, who held the lead for the final 45 of 120 laps.
“I followed Michael a few years ago in an ARCA race, and I remember seeing that Pilot/Flying J (sponsor logo) on the back bumper,” Allgaier said. “I could beat him then, but I couldn’t do it today. I tried really hard there at the end.
“First of all, hats off the everybody back at JR Motorsports. To see a car that was that strong… All four of our Camaro SS’s were strong today. To see Michael get his first win… He’s tried so hard, and to see the time and the effort he’s put in — especially this offseason — it’s really, really cool.
“I was disappointed I couldn’t make a run, but a great way to start the season.”
Annett’s first Xfinity victory was also the first for crew chief Travis Mack, who was released from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team at Leavine Family Racing (with driver Kasey Kahne) in midseason last year. He teamed with Annett for the last 14 races of 2018.
“It’s been a tough road for Travis Mack,” said team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It’s been an equally tough road for Michael Annett. This was redemption for both those guys.”
The first caution of the race not for a stage break came on Lap 71, when the escape hatch in the roof of Brad Keselowski’s No. 12 Ford broke loose and landed in the tri-oval grass.
That particular piece had broken on Lap 1, and the Team Penske crew had spent the cautions at the ends of the first two stages trying to secure it — in vain. After the hatch went flying, Keselowski took his car to the garage and retired in 37th place.
“I felt like I was back in the ‘50s running a convertible here on the beach,” Keselowski said wryly. “That was interesting. The roof, escape hatch, whatever it’s called — it looks like there was a defect from the factory on the body and just nothing we could do. The guys tried to fix it, but it’s in a spot where you can’t get to it and work on it.
“It’s made the way it’s made. It’s one of those things outside your control, and sometimes that’s just how things go. I know we had a car that could win today. It broke on Lap 1, Turn 1, and we did everything we could to fix it for the last hour or so, but it is just not something you can fix.”