It took eight years and 230 races but Michael Annett won his first Xfinity Series race on Saturday. The race was rather sedate — especially compared to Friday’s wreck-filled truck race — but Annett’s dominance was clear as he led the last 45 laps of the 120-lap race.
Teammate Justin Allgaier was second. Both of them race for JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. It was JR Motorsports’ sixth win in the last 11 races.
“This is amazing,” Annett, 32, said. “My first words were ‘eight years.’ [This is] my eighth year in the series. My guys have stuck with me through the hard times, when everybody had counted us out and wondered why I get to drive this car.
“Our slogan this year is ‘One team, one dream, one goal.’ This was one of them, so we’re starting off good.”
Justin Haley won the first stage and Ross Chastain won the second one. There were no multicar wrecks in the race.
William Byron, at 21, proved you don’t need a lot of experience to win the pole. You just need the fastest car. But having the fastest qualifying car is not necessarily a predictor of success. The last pole-sitter to win the Daytona 500 was Dale Jarrett in 2000. In fact, the last top-five finish was in 2001 when Bill Elliott finished fifth.
Byron views his winning the pole as the first in a series of successes.
“It’s the first accomplishment for us for the year,” Byron said. “We’ve got a lot of things we want to do this year. This is the first one we can check off the list.”
Byron was winless in 36 races last year. The previous year he won four races on the Xfinity circuit and the two years before he won seven truck races. He recognizes the move up as being challenging.
“From Xfinity to Cup, it’s [a] huge [jump]. You take the five or 10 people you race against in the Xfinity series and you’ve got 30-35 guys as good [in the Cup]. A bad day is a lot worse. I’d say it grinds on you mentally because you have to go out there every week.”
Happiest driver in 500
Parker Kligerman figured he would be at Daytona, but just not behind the wheel in the 500. Since 2009, Kligerman has been banging around the various racing circuits, having won two truck races and nothing in the Xfinity and Cup series. His team, Swan Racing, suspended operations and he has been working as an analyst and pit reporter for NBC Sports Network.
Still, he gets to drive every once in a while and found himself in Thursday’s qualifying race. And, his 12th-place finish was good enough to get him into the big show on Sunday.
“A year ago, I watched this race,” Kligerman said. “I felt like I’d probably never get a chance to be in this race again. Fast forward a couple weeks ago, I’m doing pit reporting, doing the Daytona 24 Hour. Now I’m … talking … as a guy that just made the Daytona 500. It means the world to me. This is a pretty cool deal.
“[Driver] Landon Cassill told me the best feeling he’s ever had in a race car was the time he raced in the Daytona 500. It is because the days leading up to this are literally some of the worst days of your life. Then all of a sudden in the span of a split second when you cross that finish line [in qualifying], you’re in, the whole world becomes brighter and clearer, everything is better.”