Published August 02, 2012
| Associated Press
The joy of a top-five finish wears off pretty fast nowadays for Michael Annett.
He says it's time to win.
There would be no better place for a breakthrough than Iowa Speedway in Newton, 30 miles east of Annett's hometown of Des Moines.
Annett goes into Saturday's U.S. Cellular 250 on a career-best run and as one of the hottest drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He came in sixth last week at Indianapolis and was in the top five in three of four races before that.
"We're definitely hoping to use everything we've learned this last month-and-a-half and bring home a trophy rather than getting excited about a third or fourth," Annett said.
The 26-year-old is among three native Iowans in the Nationwide field this week.
Joey Gase of Cedar Rapids will be in Go Green Racing's No. 39 Chevrolet in his 11th start of the year and 16th of his career. Brett Moffitt of Grimes, the points leader in the K&N Pro Series East, will drive RAB Racing's No. 99 Toyota Camry in his first career Nationwide start.
Annett, who signed with Richard Petty Motorsports after driving for Rusty Wallace last year, will be competing in his 125th Nationwide race since 2008. He has more than $3.6 million in career earnings and, at sixth in the point standings, is well on his way to his best year.
He earned an extra $100,000 last week for finishing highest among four eligible drivers at Indy in Nationwide's "Dash4Cash" bonus program. He'll go for another $100,000 bonus at Iowa, this time against Sam Hornish Jr., Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Annett has led in three races this year, but his best career finish remains third, to Kurt Busch and Stenhouse last month at Daytona.
He'll be driving for the sixth time at Iowa Speedway. He was 12th in last year's U.S. Cellular 250 and was dealt a disappointing blow in his most recent appearance at the track.
He thought his No. 43 Ford was good enough to win the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 in May. He came in 14th despite having to contend with a loose spark-plug wire that cut his engine power to seven cylinders for half the race.
"We felt we let one get away a couple months ago," Annett said, "so I'm looking forward to this one even more."
Annett said he and his crew chief, Phillippe Lopez, have never been more confident.
"We know what we need to do to run top five, top 10," he said. "We need to make the next step."
Annett was born into a racing family. He attended his first race at Iowa's Knoxville Raceway four days after he was born, and his father, Harold, sponsored a driver in the World of Outlaws series.
Hockey, however, looked like Annett's sport of choice initially. He played high-level junior hockey as recently as 2005, and he was looking at continuing in college at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
His start as a driver came in go-kart events. His millions in earnings tell him that he made the right choice.
"I had a lot of fun playing hockey and got to the point where I probably would have played four years in college and then it would have been time to go find a regular job," Annett said. "I didn't have the stats or the size to be in the NHL. Luckily, things came together and I'm able to live the life of a racecar driver."
Annett isn't the only Iowan looking to improve.
Gase, 19, had a career-best 20th-place finish at last year's U.S. Cellular 250. His best outing this year was 23rd. Saturday will be his first race in three weeks.
Moffitt, the Nationwide newcomer, is in his fourth full season on the K&N Pro Series East circuit and is regarded as one of the sport's rising stars.
He landed this weekend's gig because of his ties to Michael Waltrip Racing's driver-development program, which works with RAB Racing.
Moffitt, 19, said it will be different competing in a longer Nationwide race against drivers whose habits he doesn't know.
"It may be unrealistic," Moffitt said, "but I don't enter a racing believing I can't win."