Michael Annett doesn't mind the company. He welcomes it.
The Des Moines native shared the press conference stage with Joey Gase, of Cedar Rapids, and Brett Moffitt, of Grimes, who will represent the host state in NASCAR competition near home.
Annett and Gase will compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series event this weekend, while Moffitt tries to defend his NASCAR K&N Pro Series title at Iowa Speedway on Saturday. The state is gaining a presence in the upper levels of auto racing.
"I think the first time I came in I was sitting up here alone," Annett said. "Now, having Brett and Joey up here, it's pretty cool. It shows a lot for the drivers this state is bringing up right now."
Annett, 25, has made the biggest impact of the group, placing ninth in points last season with seven top-10 finishes. He has performed well in 2012, considering his new Richard Petty Motorsports team wasn't fully assembled until two weeks before Daytona. They have managed three top-10 finishes. He credits an alliance formed with Roush Fenway Racing, allowing them to share notes, engines and cars.
"It's really almost like having a teammate." Annett said. "The team is brand new, but there's a lot of resources we had at our fingertips and that relationship is the biggest thing to a startup team."
He looks forward to racing at the track near his home, but doesn't feel additional pressure running in front of numerous family and friends.
"I think there's just more anxiety," Annett said. "I said it before that if I put any more intensity on this race than I'm selling my guys short because they work just as hard week in and week out for me."
Gase will make his 11th Nationwide start this week, including his debut at Iowa Speedway last August in the U.S. Cellular 250, and his sixth this year. Moffitt has eight career K&N Pro Series wins, capturing the checkered flag at Richmond International Raceway in April. He is sixth in points this season.
"Everywhere we go it seems like everyone is competitive and doing good," said the 19-year-old Gase, noting many dirt-track drivers excel nationally. "I think Iowa is pretty good when it comes to racing."
Iowa has been known for numerous small-town and county dirt tracks local racers call home. Iowa Speedway gave the state and upstart drivers a direct connection with the major series.
"As a little kid, when they were building the track I was like 'Wow, that's awesome. Iowa's going to have a NASCAR track,' "said Gase, who signed a deal in January to run with Go Green Racing and is racing this weekend with Jimmy Means Racing. "I never dreamed I'd actually be racing here."
Moffitt said drivers from the southeast or California dominate the top series, but he likes to see more Iowa representation. Although their paths don't cross often, they support one another. Annett said he rooted for Moffitt while racing in Richmond.
"You always want to see someone from your area do well," Moffitt said. "It's great seeing these guys and (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver) Landon Cassill, he's out there making a name for himself. ... We're all kind of putting Iowa on the map."
Annett leads trio of Iowans in return to home state, a hotbed for racingWritten by Steven B. Wilson
Published in Nationwide Series NewsSunday, 20 May 2012 00:25