Bryan Davis Keith, lead Nationwide Series writer for Frontstretch.com and a contributing writer for THL, had a chance to sit down with Germain Racing driver Michael Annett to discuss the upcoming season.
Bryan Davis Keith: With your sponsors coming back, it sounds like your team is in the same boat as last season. Talk about your expectations for the 2010 season.
Michael Annett: Other than two of the 11 guys that are there with us every weekend, everybody’s the same. We’re going into the season with Ryan Fugle as the crew chief, who took over halfway through the season last year and really got our program on track. Our program is pretty much the exact same, we built a couple new cars for this season, and we’ve definitely got some higher standards for ourselves. Not necessarily higher goals, but in terms of where we want to be each weekend and how well we want to run. The thing is, we want to consistently be in the top 10 throughout the race this whole season rather than qualifying 20th or 30th and battling the whole day to get a top 10 finish. So if we can qualify better and run there the whole time…with these double-file restarts if you’re in the top 10, top 5 on a restart, even if its a green-white-checker or with five laps to go, you’ve got plenty of a chance to be there for a win. When you’re riding up in the fifth row going into [turns] one and two, a lot of things can happen and you can definitely gain some spots real quick there in the first few corners. Week in and week out, [if we can run] in the top 5 and top 10 we’re going to put ourselves in the right position at the end of the race to score maximum points, and that [points] will take care of itself if we’re the position we’re looking to be.
Keith: At the end of last season, you were running pretty consistently for top 10 and top 15 runs. Given the economy, the NNS field looks like it will be a little bit thinner than in the past. Does that change what you consider a good finish or a good result?
Annett: I don’t think so. We’re still going to have 7-10 Cup drivers each weekend. [Then] there’s some really good rookies like Ricky Stenhouse and Colin Braun coming up, they’ll be in really good equipment, and James Buescher and Brian Scott. There’s a lot of young guys this year. Obviously the Roush stuff is probably the best of it, but James and Brian and I are going to battle it out with those other two, and its going to make it a lot of fun. Racing against the younger guys is more fun, while you learn more when you race with the Cup drivers.
Keith: Speaking of Cup drivers, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard are all running for an NNS title. Do you think this year that a Series regular can give them a run for the title?
Annett: I definitely think we can give them a run for it. It’s going to be tough, and it’s probably going to be one of the harder years with Brad thinking he has the car to do it and he’s going wins under his belt. And Carl wants to make up for last year, so he’s going to be racing as hard as he ever has. It’s going to be tough, but I definitely think there’s going to be two or three NNS regulars in the top 5 this year.
Keith: Last year, your car’s quarterpanels were blank for some of the races at the end of the season. What’s the status of your current sponsorship? Will it cover a full season?
Annett: We’ve sold about 70% of our races. We’re about where we were starting last year, and we definitely think that things are getting a little bit better, that it will be a little bit easier to shop out those races. But nothing is going to stop us from going to the track, running the full race, and running for a championship. We have everything in place to do that, it just makes it easier when you’re quarterpanels aren’t blank.
Keith: Your teammate on the Truck Series side, Todd Bodine, has done really well but is facing sponsorship troubles with the No. 30 team. Does that create any distraction for your team at the shop?
Annett: It’s just frustrating because we’re all a tight family. It’s not going to affect us, it’s not going to hurt our performance, but you just love to see a teammate that’s had all that success, [that] deserves to be in NASCAR running well. Last year, the never-give-up attitude that team has [showed]; they set their goal, they were going to go to Daytona and win the race. After that, they kept fighting and fighting and finding the dollars to go. I expect the same thing [this year], and it makes our whole organization better when you see that never-give-up attitude.
Keith: You’ve got a year under your belt in the Nationwide Series. Where have you improved most as a driver?
Annett: The biggest thing is what I was talking about earlier, my restarts. At the beginning of the year, I’d lose two or three positions on the restart right away, and towards the end of the year with the double-file restarts, [I learned a lot] being behind it sometimes and seeing how much a guy next to you can restart and how far away he can get from you coming back to the flag. The biggest thing I learned was to be confident, to keep my foot in the gas through [turns] one and two, trying to get into an outside line and keeping momentum up. You can gain so many spots so quickly in just a couple corners that could take a full 30, 40 lap run to gain.
Keith: The NNS COT is coming. What has your team done in the offseason to prepare for that?
Annett: The biggest thing is we’re going to rely on the same team that the No. 13 Cup car has an affiliation with. We don’t have the people in place to build our own cars, so we’re going to rely on them to build the cars. We’ve got a real good relationship with Toyota, and they’re really going to help the teams that aren’t Cup affiliated to make sure we’re not missing out on anything, and we’ll have everything in place when we go to Daytona in July.
Keith: NASCAR has made a big deal about getting back to its roots and being more hands-off with the drivers. What can fans expect to see from that? Does that change your mentality as a race car driver?
Annett: What I took from them was they want us to race hard for each position, they want us to race hard every lap, but they want us to be professional race car drivers the way we go about it. A guy that can haul it off into a corner, anybody can do that, but it takes a really good driver to race a foot off a guy’s quarterpanel and make the pass. They’re still going to penalize a guy that blatantly takes somebody out, but the guy that drove in just a little bit over his head and got into somebody and turned them, they’re not going to penalize that anymore. They’re going to see that as racing, and we’re all professionals. We should know what we’re doing.
Keith: Coming into 2010, you’re hunting for your first win on the NNS level. If there’s one race you’ve got circled as the one you can get that win at, which one is it?
Annett: I’m looking forward to three races; both times we go to Daytona and Iowa. Daytona’s a place I’ve won before and I want to go back [to Victory Lane] there, and I want to go back home to Iowa, which is 20 minutes from where I grew up, and I always have hundreds of fans in the stands there. It’s kind of my chance to show everyone why I moved away from home and this is why I’m doing. That’s definitely a track I can circle on the calendar and know I can go in and get a win.
Bryan Davis Keith is the lead Nationwide Series writer for Frontstretch.com