Michael Annett wins Xfinity Series opener at Daytona

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              RETRANSMISSION TO CORRECT NAME - Jeffery Earnhardt (18) and Michael Annett (1) lead the field to start the NASCAR Xfinity series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Michael Annett stretched the Speedweeks streak of first-time winners to three with a victory Saturday in the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Annett won for the first time at NASCAR’s national level, a career that spans 345 races in three series. He gave JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., his sister and sister and Rick Hendrick, its fourth in five years at Daytona

“A lot of people have been down on Michael Annett for a while now,” Earnhardt said.

He likened Annett’s opportunity driving the No. 1 Chevrolet for JRM, a competitive Xfinity Series team, to when the late Dale Earnhardt gave Michael Waltrip a ride in 2001. It was Waltrip’s first ride in a car capable of winning and he ended an 462-losing streak by winning the Daytona 500 in his debut race for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

“It reminds me of an Earnhardt giving a Michael a chance years ago to show his potential,” Earnhardt Jr. said about Annett’s victory.

Annett followed Austin Hill, winner of the Truck Series opener, and Harrison Burton, winner of the ARCA opener, as first-time winners this week. The Daytona 500 is Sunday.

Allgaier finished second for a 1-2 Chevrolet finish but didn’t have an opportunity to pass Annett for the lead. The racing was largely single-file and strung out, the opposite of Friday night’s crash-marred Truck Series race.

Drivers on Saturday found it difficult to mount a passing attempt so they mostly stayed in line.

“I was disappointed I couldn’t make a run but a great way to start the season, come out of here second with some points,” said Allgaier, who praised Annett for earning the victory.

“He has tried so hard and the effort and time he’s put in into it.”

Brandon Jones was third in Toyota’s debut of the Supra in the Xfinity Series.

Ryan Sieg was fourth in a Chevrolet, followed by Austin Cindric in a Ford for Team Penske.

Annett has longtime sponsorship from Pilot Flying J and has taken it to various teams trying to find a competitive ride. He ran three full seasons in the Cup Series but didn’t score a single top-10 finish in 109 career starts. So Annett in 2017 stepped down to the Xfinity Series and spent the last two years driving for JR Motorsports.

“This is amazing — eight years in the series,” Annett said while crediting his team for sticking with him “through the hard times when everyone counts me out. Our slogan this year is ‘One team, one dream, one goal.'”

Earnhardt Jr. credited crew chief Travis Mack with guiding Annett’s team. Mack had previously worked at Hendrick Motorsports but moved to a crew chief job at Leavine Family Racing that lasted just aa few months last season. When Mack became available, JRM grabbed him.

“I knew I needed him here with Michael Annett. That combination would be great — so we’re seeing the results of that,” Earnhardt said. “I’m extremely happy for Travis Mack. It’s been a tough road for him, equally tough road for Michael Annett. It’s been a day of redemption for both of those guys.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt led 29 laps and finished 15th in his debut for Joe Gibbs Racing. Jeffrey Earnhardt has taken a new approach to his career and has decided to run a partial scheduled with a winning team rather than a full year with a smaller team.

Jeffrey Earnhardt raced with a tribute helmet to his grandfather, the late Earnhardt Sr., that showed a shirtless Earnhardt Sr. on a horse. He said his lack of experience leading races played a factor Saturday.

“Just lack of experience. I’ll get better at it,” Jeffrey Earnhardt said. “This was the first time to actually get to race upfront like that. It was a lot of fun. Hopefully we continue to grow this program and grow myself as a driver. We won’t let them get away from us anymore.”

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