The finish was Annett’s second of the season and his first since Bristol, two races ago. It came in the Iowa driver’s 62nd series start.
Following his first-lap exit at Bristol, Annett struggled to a 39th-place finish at Darlington after an early-race accident ripped the sheet metal from the driver’s side of his Chevrolet. Statistically, an equally-tall task was ahead of him at Richmond, where he’d finished no better than 33rd in three previous Cup starts. Rumors also swirled about the HScott Motorsport team’s driver lineup in 2015, and if Clint Bowyer would be joining the program next season. Clearly, on-track tensions for Saturday would not be limited to the drivers contending for spots in the Chase.
In Friday’s opening practice, Annett was 35th-fastest of the 45 drivers entered, but he climbed to 32nd in Happy Hour before securing the 27th starting spot with an average speed of 127.095 mph. Missing he race were Josh Wise, his second DNQ in a row in his first attempt driving The Motorsports Group’s #30 Chevrolet, and Timmy Hill in the slower of two unsponsored Premium Motorsports Fords, his the #62.
Starting 43rd on Saturday was J.J. Yeley, who was again looking to help BK Racing bring the #26 Maxim Toyota higher in Owner Points. Yeley held the spot until Lap 2, when the #32 BeerFrost.com / CorvetteParts.net Ford from Go Green Racing slipped to 43rd. The #32 was driven this week by XFINITY Series regular Jeffrey Earnhardt, who was making his Cup Series debut. Unfortunately, Earnhardt was the first to be lapped on the 19th circuit, and he was still running in the rear when the first caution fell on Lap 39.
That time by, Reed Sorenson in Premium Motorsports’ #98 Ford dropped oil entering Turn 1, causing several lead-lap drivers to slide up the track. Among them, 14th-place Martin Truex, Jr. tagged the outside wall and began to trail smoke, forcing a series of pit stops. As Sorenson pulled behind the wall to take last from Earnhardt, Truex made a stop just before the Lap 47 restart and lost four laps, leaving him 42nd. Sorenson came back out on Lap 95, moments before the second caution of the evening came out for debris.
On Lap 113, Annett was running nearly two laps down in 32nd when he found trouble on the backstretch. Coming off of Turn 2, Annett slid into the #95 Thrivent Financial Ford of Michael McDowell, then was bumped into a spin by Jeb Burton’s #23 Estes Toyota. Annett’s Chevrolet switched ends, then made hard contact with the inside wall with the driver’s side of his machine. Annett managed to get the car re-fired, but then stopped at the entrance of pit road with the car leaking fluid. A tow truck pulled the #46 behind the wall under the 13-lap caution, and the crew set to work on repairs. On Lap 170, Annett took last from Sorenson.
Although Annett would remain in 43rd for the rest of the race, the HScott team once again managed to get their battered machine back on track. This moment came on Lap 271, when he was 163 circuits behind leader Matt Kenseth’s dominant Toyota. Annett completed just a handful more laps before pulling out for the final time on Lap 308.
McDowell came home 42nd on the night after a bizarre accident where his #95 clipped the safety truck entering Turn 3 during the fifth caution that came out on Lap 290. No injuries were reported, but most of the rear sheetmetal was torn off McDowell’s Ford, ultimately ending their night with a trip to the NASCAR hauler. He and Annett were the night’s only two retirees. Sorenson came home 41st, Earnhardt 40th, and Burton 39th, all of them 13 or more laps down.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #46 in a Cup Series race at Richmond since September 10, 2011, when Scott Speed’s #46 T&T Performance Ford crashed 7 laps into the Wonderful Pistachios 400.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #46-Michael Annett / 145 laps / crash
42) #95-Michael McDowell / 287 laps / crash
41) #98-Reed Sorenson / 335 laps / running
40) #32-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 387 laps / running
39) #23-Jeb Burton / 387 laps / running
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill (3)
2nd) Michael Annett, J.J. Yeley (2)
3rd) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
2nd) BK Racing, Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports (2)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Ford (8)
3rd) Toyota (3)