It’s unknown whether or not resiliency and subsequent triumph are uniquely human emotions. Animals typically rely on instinct and experience, but people tend to do things a little differently, allowing past failures or tragedies to steer a new direction for the future.
Nobody epitomizes that emotion of triumph at this moment more than new NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Michael Annett. Annett endured a brutal crash at Daytona last February, derailing his hopes and dreams of one day making it to the top level, and putting his entire future in doubt.
However, he scraped himself off the surface, and despite enduring a dislocated and broken sternum bone, he got back in the racecar and made the most of his opportunity, landing a full-time spot in NASCAR’s premier circuit next season — the Sprint Cup.
“It’s definitely a whirlwind right now to sit here and have an injury like mine,” Annett said. “You almost wonder if you were going to be able to get back in a racecar, and I got back in it and feel great. Not even 12 months later, you’re able to announce you’re going into Sprint Cup racing. Like I said, it’s a whirlwind. It’s been a crazy year, and I feel like it’s one that’s going to help me grow and prepare myself for next year.”
It should. Barring another catastrophic injury, Annett will be one of the early favorites for NASCAR’s 2014 Rookie of the Year. He could be the most prepared of the four full-time rookies on the Sprint Cup circuit next season, and although he has hardly racked up the numbers of a Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards on the Nationwide Series, he has shown one of the most important traits a professional stock car driver can possess — consistency.
In Annett’s five seasons as a Nationwide driver, he never found himself in Victory Lane, but he did finish among the top-15 drivers in each of his five years with earnings amounting to more than $5 million. That is especially significant when considering that he missed eight races in 2013 due to the injury.
“We kind of started talking towards the end of the season. We had planned on having five to 10 Cup races earlier this year, but with the injury, it kind of got behind, basically. Plans changed. I’ve been in the Nationwide Series for five years now, and the Cup Series is the main goal. It just seemed like if there was a time to do it, it was now,” Annett said.
“The biggest thing is we’re going to be going for Rookie of the Year. It’s the toughest rookie class we’ve had in a long time,” he added. “There are going to be four full-time rookies next year, and all of them have shown a lot of success. With Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Justin Allgaier and myself, it’s going to be a fun battle for Rookie of the Year.”
Although Annett will be leaving his Nationwide Series home at Richard Petty Motorsports, he will not exactly be in unfamiliar territory. He has joined forces with Tommy Baldwin, a mentor to Annett. In fact, Annett credits Baldwin for supplying him with the necessary encouragement that inspired the Des Moines native to move to Charlotte, N. C., in the first place.
“Tommy was the reason I moved down here about five years ago to take a shot at this,” Annett said. “He has just kind of been a mentor, a guy that I have always gone to when I’ve had questions about anything. To have him contact me and say that he wanted to use those partners to go racing next year, it’s really an honor, and I’m excited.”
Baldwin, owner of Tommy Baldwin Racing, has spent the past five years getting a taste for the circuit, and it now appears as though he is ready to dive in head-first with Annett behind the wheel of the No. 7 Chevy formerly piloted by Dave Blaney.
“This is probably the most resources that Tommy has had here since he left Bill Davis Racing with all the engineering support from RCR and Chevrolet,” Annett said. “Tommy has put two cars on the track these last few years and raced as best he could, and I think he feels like this year’s going to be a real opportunity to compete and get top-15s.”
That will be a tall task at this level, where the races are longer, more intense and more pressurized. The average length of a race at the Sprint Cup level is sometimes three times that of a Nationwide Series race. So, while the Nationwide Series is often gauged as the triple-A level to the Major Leagues of Sprint Cup, the jump is still quite significant, and oftentimes, drivers are not prepared for what is in store.
Annett’s training regimen is designed specifically to ensure he will be able to make the transition seamlessly, centering on being patient and staying focused throughout a lengthy race.
“The biggest thing is I’m going to have to start doing a lot more training with the races being sometimes triple of what I was doing in the Nationwide Series,” Annett said. “There are some things you can do to really help your mental focus. You can work with some people in that profession that help with focus.
“We’re doing everything we can, because we know how big of a jump it is going to be and how tough it is going to be. We’re going to try to go in as much as we can with our guns loaded.”
Annett counts himself fortunate for the opportunity Baldwin has given him. His goal for next season, as previously mentioned, is the to be the Rookie of the Year, but his greater goal will be improving and garnering respect. There are a lot of big names at the Sprint Cup level that have been around for a long time.
Annett feels honored to be a part of the circuit that has accumulated some of the most talented motorsports athletes from around the world, and if Rookie of the Year is out of reach, becoming a respected member of that fraternity would be enough.
“I really will be trying to get the respect of my peers and try not to do anything stupid, try not to tear up too much equipment,” Annett said.
“If we meet all of our goals, hopefully we’ll be bringing home top-20s,” he added. “It’s going to be tough to get to that level, but once we do, I think we’ll just keep improving at a quicker pace.”
Sports writer Dustin Turner may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 440, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.