Michael Annett, driver of the No. 43 Pilot/Flying J Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, currently sits seventh in the point standings going into tomorrow night’s race. He visited the Daytona International Speedway infield media center Thursday before practice to talk about his season to date and hopes for the rest of the season.
THE KING TURNED 75 THIS WEEK. HOW HAVE THINGS BEEN SINCE KENTUCKY? “Obviously, definitely going into the shop Monday was probably the best day of the year so far – just from the two Cup teams, everyone on the Nationwide team that doesn’t get to go to the track each week. I was definitely very happy and with Richard’s birthday, turning 75 this week, we had a lot of fun last night celebrating over at the Wyndham. We celebrated not just his birthday, but everything he’s done. It was a really good chance to try to raise some money for the Richard Petty Foundation and everything that he donates to, and just driving for such a special person that means so much to our sport, not only on the race track, but sitting there last night when Dale Inman got on stage and was talking – we look at all the records that Richard has with his 200 wins and all of his championships. Yeah, we put that in the record books, but Dale said it best when he said there’s not a book big enough to record everything he’s done for our sport and for other people just trying to make their lives better. It’s really a special opportunity to drive for him.”
THE DASH FOR CASH STARTS THIS WEEKEND. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT PROGRAM? “Austin was talking about qualifying here last year and I was fortunate enough to get in there and be qualified for Iowa. I think it was myself, the 31, the 32 and 38 – all Turner cars – and two of them had trouble early on. I think I was running eighth and Reed (Sorenson) and the 32 was running sixth. Yeah, we weren’t running for the win the last five laps, but I could see that blue spoiler they put on the car for being dash eligible. I promise that if I could have got to him I would have probably made a move for sixth that you normally wouldn’t, so it’s racing like that the dash promotes and I think I’m a lot more excited this year that we’re gonna do four races in a row rather than spread it out like they did. It’s something you can really focus on each weekend and these four tracks that are eligible – obviously, Indy we don’t really know, but the other three are some of my favorite tracks. So it’s a great opportunity this time.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PRESSURE TO PERFORM THAT IS INHERENT WHEN DRIVING THE 43 CAR? “It’s kind of like Austin eluded to earlier. The fans care about the number, I think, more than the drivers do. It means so much to them and the number has been around so long that it goes through generations of the family as well. Each weekend you’ll sign an autograph for somebody and they don’t say they want to see you in victory lane, they say they want to see that 43 in victory lane. It’s a huge opportunity and, like I said earlier, it’s about representing the number the best way you can and trying to give back to the sport like Richard has, so, as far as moving to Cup I’ve always told people I’ve got to perform in Nationwide first. Obviously, we know how sponsor driven our sport is and sometimes there are opportunities to move up because there is a sponsor there, but I would like to prove myself in Nationwide and make sure I deserve to be in the race on Sundays.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED TO FIND THE SPEED RPM HAS HAD IN THEIR CARS ALL YEAR CONSIDERING THEY HAVEN’T RUN A FULL NATIONWIDE PROGRAM THE LAST FEW YEARS? “Yeah, we did put the team together very late, but I wasn’t real surprised because of the alliance we do have with Roush Yates Engines and the horsepower we get there, and then getting the cars that Carl and Trevor ran last year in the Nationwide Series, so we knew we had all the tools and all the resources were there, but you still have to have the right people in place to go out and do it, and I think that’s the thing I’ve been most impressed with – how late we did put this together and how well the guys worked together. Phillipe Lopez had never worked with either organization. He got in there and got his hands wrapped around it and has done an amazing job, I think. It’s a shame. We should have had more top fives before last weekend, but we finally put everything together. Sometimes it takes one of those performances, not only from myself to get the confidence to know we belong up there. We’ve had some top 10s this year that we barely squeaked in there or had to use strategy to get up there, but last week we qualified in the top 10 and stayed there the whole night. The guys, when they see that we can do that, I think that’s more important than anything. This week is the most excited I’ve ever seen them. I wish Loudon was this weekend, but we’ve run strong at superspeedways and just had some bad luck, so if we can get through here and keep some momentum going like I eluded to earlier, there are four races coming up that I’m really excited about.”
WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH RICHARD CONSIDERING HE WON HIS LAST RACE BEFORE YOU WERE EVEN BORN? “I had never met Richard before until I sat down in a meeting about a month before we were here in February and just from the get-go he calms you down. Obviously, you’re gonna be nervous talking to him, but he calms you down and makes you feel like you’re his kid or his grandkid and he’s just very easy to talk to. People ask how much he does from a hands-on perspective and he’s there every day going around shaking hands, and then when we get to performance meetings after practice he’s in there giving us his advice and then we start talking about shims and he kind of throws his hands up and says, ‘I’m outta here. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ So it’s cool the things he can help with and I think we have the engineers and the crew chiefs and what I call all the smart people that can handle the competition side, but the advice he can give through all of his years of experience, I think, means more.”
HOW DOES THIS BONUS PROGRAM WEIGH ON YOUR OR DOES IT? “I think starting tomorrow night and those four races, the $100,000 is gonna be the last thing on our mind. We’re there to get the trophy, to get the win, and then everything else will take care of itself. I think the biggest thing, like I said earlier, that’s gonna come into play is if there’s a Cup regular leading the race and there’s a guy that’s going for the dash for cash in second and you’re running third. That’s where you’re gonna probably see some moves made and some chances made that normally wouldn’t be made for that position.”
THOUGHTS ON RACING AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY AND NOT BEING AT ORP? “I think ORP is still my favorite race track that we went to, but we started racing go-karts as little kids and we started racing to race at places like the Brickyard, so to be a part of the inaugural Nationwide race there is gonna be huge and very prestigious and that’s definitely one of the biggest victory lanes that you could ever be in, but, hopefully in the future they find a way where we could go to Indianapolis twice in one season. That would probably be the best of both worlds.”