Two weeks ago, Michael Annett announced he is retiring from full-time NASCAR competition following the 2021 Xfinity Series finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Over the course of his career, Annett has picked up one Xfinity Series win at Daytona International Speedway, which came at the start of the 2019 season. He went on to, at that time, have a career year with six top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. Last year, he eclipsed his personal top-10 mark with 22.
Just hours ahead of the Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July, Annett was ruled out of the race because of a stress fracture in his right femur. The Iowa native went on to miss seven of the next 13 races, which included Josh Berry winning while driving the No. 1 Chevrolet at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Prior to last week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, Annett spoke to Jayski.com about his injury, a few career highlights and why it was important for him to retire on his own terms.
Editor’s Note: The interview has been condensed for clarity.
Prior to the race at Atlanta, you were injured and had to sit out. Take me through that process and what it was like?
It’s really tough when the doctors don’t think it’s right to be in the car and it gets taken out of your control. Not only sitting out that race, but knowing what was coming Monday and Tuesday and getting that surgery done, and a lot of unknowns after the surgery with what the recovery process was going to be and how long it would take.
It was definitely tough when you prepare all week to go race and you know how hard the [team] works to put those cars together. I really enjoy Atlanta and the whole thing was new to me. It was tough with a lot of unknowns behind it.
When did you make the decision to not race at Atlanta because you had practiced at Knoxville two days prior?
We practiced and it was talking with the doctors about how I felt after that practice. You could tell something wasn’t right.
How did the original injury happen?
It’s just a stress fracture. I started doing a lot more running. I’ve never ran; I’m a Peloton guy and I did a lot of rowing. I tried doing some cross training because I needed to start running. My new trainer and the guys I work out with, there’s a lot of running involved.
It was a shame because I was getting pretty good at it and starting to see the gains and seeing the weight loss and conditioning. I kept saying I pulled something in my groin, so I quit running and we limited my movement there and it never got better, it got worse. We finally pulled the trigger to get an MRI done and the pain was on the inner side of my quad. That’s why I thought it was a groin pull or something, so we did an X-ray and [the doctor] wanted to do an MRI to get a closer look at it. He consulted with Dr. Beaver at OrthoCarolina in the hip and knee department. They said, ‘Man, you’ve got a break.’ The break is on the outside of my leg, but with the way the nerves work, it was getting me on the inside. It was a weird deal, so they did that surgery and put a couple of rods in there and a plate over the break.
I know you broke your sternum at Daytona. But aside from that injury, have you had any other injuries in your NASCAR career?
Nope, I had zero before that sternum break.
You came back at Watkins Glen after missing two races – and the two off weeks – and finished 11th. Went to Indy and practiced, but couldn’t race. How were you feeling then?
I know my body well enough so I know when something’s not right and you can converse. You sit back and think, ‘Do we hurt it worse and sit out the rest of the season or just miss this race?’
How tough is it sitting on the sideline, having to watch another driver compete in your car?
It’s really tough. These guys are your family and you’re with them every day at the shop. There’s so much hard work that goes into it, and when you don’t get to be a part of it, it’s really tough. It’s the right thing to do if you don’t think you can be 100% and give back the amount of effort that they’ve put in. You’ve got to make that decision, and I’ve been around long enough and am professional enough to know when that’s the right call.
Josh Berry ended up winning one of those races at Las Vegas. What was the emotion seeing him and the team get to victory lane?
I was happy for Josh, and especially happy for the guys. That’s what they deserve. Seeing them on TV and the smiles on their faces, you can’t beat that. Obviously, you want to be a part of it, but you can’t beat seeing how happy they were and know that’s what they deserve. That was one of the coolest things ever.
Hopefully, we’ve got [three] more and I can see that look on their faces again and have something to do with it.
Where were you watching the race from?
I was watching from my living room.
Two weeks ago, it was announced you’d retire after the season concluded. Why was that the right decision?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about all year. Even going into this year, and the injury really didn’t have a whole lot to do with it. Sitting back and watching gives you more time to think. But for me, I’m 35 years old, been in the sport for 13 years and feel like it’s time to let somebody else go out there.
I don’t have the excitement I used to have to go to the airport. It goes back to, if you can’t give the 110% that the guys put in during the week into the racecar, it’s not fair to them. I felt like it was the right thing to do, right time, and it’s time to go pursue other things.
You’d been thinking about it, but when did you make up your mind?
It was within the last couple of weeks. It was about a week before we announced it.
When did you make up your mind that this was going to be the year you were going to hang up the helmet?
You lean on other drivers and guys that are out of the sport. I’ve got a great management team and a great family that’s been in auto racing for a long time. A lot of people to bounce it off of. Honestly, some people thought it was the wrong decision, some people supported it. Ultimately, you’re not looking at them for an answer, you’re looking at them for what they think about it.
I took all that in and it eventually became an internal decision.
When the results were tough a few years back, had you thought about retiring then or did you want to prove people wrong and hope to see the results?
It was the prove people wrong mentality and to prove myself right, not necessarily prove people wrong. Just prove it to myself. I would love to have a lot more top fives and more race wins, but I felt like I bounced back from  and was able to [win].
I would love to be going out with a lot more race wins and trophies, but I felt like I’ve done myself right in the sport. I’ve been kind to people and people respect me. I’m going out with a smile on my face.
Going through the injury and everything this year, why come back at all over the final stretch of the season?
I owe it to my sponsors, Pilot Flying J, TMC and Allstate Peterbilt. They’ve been with me for so long, so I owe it to them. I owe it to my guys; they’re my family. I want to go out these final races the way I want to on my terms. They’re strong racetracks for us and tracks I really enjoy.
I wanted to go out with my guys and give them hugs on pit road at Phoenix and be able to say the things over the radio that I want to at Phoenix.
When you reflect on your career, obviously got the win at Daytona, competed in a few Daytona 500s. For you, though, what do you consider the biggest highlight?
That’s easy, it’s my first Xfinity win at Daytona. That was by far, huge. A close second is the ARCA race at Talladega (2007), just because I was in late models for only three years and didn’t run a whole lot of races and never got a race win; had a lot of second places. That ARCA win was my actual first race win, so that’s a close second. But nothing comes close to that first Xfinity win at Daytona.
Mentally, how big was the Daytona win?
It was definitely redemption, and it started off that season good. We had a really strong first part of , so that was the kickstart for it. Coming off the season we did, it was a huge plus, not only being my first win but being with my guys that had gone through that bad season with me. I think that adds to it as well, knowing those guys stuck with me through the offseason when they didn’t have to. To get them that win the first race out was pretty cool.
With the win at Daytona, 19 top 10s that year, 22 last year. How reassuring is it knowing you went out competitively, at least when you were healthy?
You hear it a lot, but when you get to go out on your terms and you’re not forced out, it’s a rarity in our sport. To be able to go out on my terms, and take this year out of it, last year, I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted it to be but it was very consistent.
I’m going out with a smile on my face. I don’t necessarily look at results; I look at gauge of respect from your peers, the guys that work with you. That’s what matters the most to me and I think I’ve earned that.
Any regrets at all?
There were a few restarts that I definitely regret. There’s a few race wins that we’d have in the win column if I was a little bit better on restarts.
Do any of those in particular stand out?
There’s too many.