Monday, Oct 25
NASCAR knew that rain was in the forecast for the entire weekend before cars got on track for opening Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday. The session started 19 minutes behind the scheduled time due to fog. 

Fog remained a factor for what turned into be just a 20 minute practice when rain came and halted cars from working on qualifying setup. 28 cars participated in practice, so if qualifying is rained out in the afternoon the starting lineup will be set by owner standings. 

Carl Edwards posted the fastest single lap speed at 179.802 mph, which was over one mph faster than Kevin Harvick, who recorded the second fastest lap. If rain cancels qualifying, the No. 4 Chevrolet would start from the pole on Sunday. 

Last year's pole-sitter for this event, Kurt Busch was third on the leader board at 178.649 mph. Paul Menard was fourth at 178.250 mph and defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. 

Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Joey Logano, Greg Bffle and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10. 

Three drivers were tied for most laps ran in the practice session at seven. Cup Series rookie Chris Buescher led the way in that category at 23rd. Michael Annett and Brian Scott also completed seven laps and were the two slowest cars on one lap speed. 

Notable drivers who didn't complete a lap were August winner, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon. 

Qualifying is set to role at 4:15 p.m. ET if rain moves out of the Pocono Mountains.

Have you ever wondered what NASCAR, pizza and an interstate truck ship have in common? They promote themselves together.

Prior to the NASCAR weekend at Talladega Superspeedway spanning Oct. 23-25, Sprint Cup Series driver Michael Annett and the No. 46 HScott Motorsports race team were giving back to the hard working community in Lincoln, Alabama at a Pilot Flying J truck stop.

“Pretty much, what we’re doing is turning this truck stop into a pit stop,” Annett said of the event. “It gives our customers the chance to have a professional race team fill-up their cars, wash their windshield and get to meet everybody.”

That is exactly what occurred at the service area. However, this one was a bit more special because it was the unveiling of the PJ Fresh Pizza paint scheme as the company opted to feature it on the No. 46 car at the 2.66-mile track.

As recently as March, PJ Fresh Pizza stores around the United States began to sell pizza at Pilot Flying J service stops. The “Unexpectedly Awesome” pizza was also handed out at the service area that Annett attended.

“It’s a cool deal with the PJ Express brand and its 100 percent mozzarella cheese, 100 percent baked dough each morning throughout the day for each pizza they make,” Annett said. “It gives us the chance to unveil this new pizza and get a chance to meet our customers.”

This is the second time that Annett and crew have provided service at a truck stop, the other coming at Daytona back in early July.

“The Pilot Flying J’s up and down the interstate are the reason we get to do what we do and to tie it in to the race weekend is awesome,” Annett said. “It’s just a special deal.”

Annett’s history with Pilot/Flying J goes back to his ARCA days in 2007 and 2008. When he moved to the Camping World Truck Series, he took Pilot with him, serving as the primary sponsor for eight races with Bill Davis Racing, expanding to the Xfinity Series in 2009 with Germain Racing in 27 of the 35 events.

As Annett matured, bouncing from Germain to Rusty Wallace Inc. to Richard Petty Motorsports, the company continued to find success in its marketing program. Evidently, it led to a partnership with Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2014. When he departed from that organization for HScott Motorsports, with Pilot/Flying J‘s help, he was able to sign a multi-year deal in the Cup Series, securing a ride for the immediate future. 

Michael Annett entered this season as an underdog. Annett, 28, is the oldest of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year class in 2014, but he also has the most experience in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.

After starting out his career with Germain Racing, Annett landed at Richard Petty Motorsports after a year with Rusty Wallace Incorporated.  It was at RPM where Annett started to contend for top-10s on a weekly basis, and arguably ran better than the equipment he was in. Last year, however, Annett suffered a major setback as he was severely injured in the season-opener at Daytona – sidelining him for nine races.

Annett came back, but did not run as strong as 2012 – earning just four top-10s in 25 races. Though he never truly contended for wins in the Nationwide Series, Annett showed that it was time to make the jump to the sport’s top-tier division, and that he did.

This year, Annett has been racing with Tommy Baldwin Racing – a team that started in 2009 as a start and park organization that was trying to piece together the right sponsorship package. Now that the team has grown, it was all but perfect timing for Annett.

Through 15 races in 2014, Annett has outrun the drivers he needs to outrun. No, he has not been stunning, but he has surely done better than initially thought. With his sponsor, Pilot/Flying J, following him to the Sprint Cup Series, he has the financial backing that might enable him to join a more established team in the future. But for now – the Iowa native is in the perfect setting where he doesn’t have to worry about having more pressure than needed along with unrealistic expectations.

However, the No. 7 team has begun to gain momentum. Tommy Baldwin Racing expanded their alliance with Richard Childress Racing over the off-season. No, it is not as heavy of an alliance compared to the likes of Furniture Row Racing and Germain Racing, but it is a partnership that has begun to help this underdog team.

Annett has three lead lap finishes this year. Although it doesn’t seem like a lot, all of those have been recorded at larger tracks – something that has been a weak point for this small team in the past. Over the past two weeks, Annett finished 20th and 21st, respectively. There is still room for improvement, but TBR has come a long way in a short time this year after running multiple laps down every single race to start the year. And so far this season, Annett has run slightly better than Dave Blaney did in the same car last year, as well as out running his teammate, Reed Sorenson. 

For the past several years he has been in the NASCAR Nationwide series but no wins or championships to show for it, but that could all change this year. Michael Annett, driver of the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, spoke with me briefly during the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway to explain why 2013 is his year. Coming over struggles and riding an up and down rollercoaster is something that has become fashion to Annett, but he wants to make this coaster to keep on going upwards.

The 2012 season was the best on record for Annett who finished fifth in points, and whose highest finishing position was fifth as well. “Could look back last year and say yes for sure, but then there could be other years that we don’t,” Annett said when asked about the Nationwide series having a Chase format similar to the Cup series. This debate has been going on for a couple of years of whether the other two big National series, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks, should have a chase format. It looks like with NASCAR’s rule of choosing one series to run for the championship, it has helped solved the points battles in all of the series. “We were just missing that little bit” Annett says looking back on the 2012 season, “need to come off more competitive and put that into the other guys’ head.”

Looking towards this season, Annett could not come off more excited to get the season started and underway as he goes for wins and the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship. “It is going to be tough,” Annett mentioned about the competition this season, especially with Trevor Bayne in a full time ride with Roush Fenway, not to mention that team has won back to back titles in the Nationwide series. Annett is most looking forward to racing at Daytona because of the prestigious that goes into that event as well as getting to Phoenix to prove early that he is a contender this season. “Championship is our goal, as long as we are here we are battling, but we do need to win first” Annett continued on speaking about his shot at battling with drivers such as Elliott Sadler, Sam Hornish Jr, and Bayne.

The Richard Petty driver also spoke on how it is to drive for NASCAR’s King, Richard Petty, “It’s amazing, fun work off the track with charities, get to interact with lots of people. He has taught me how to treat people and that the fans are why we are here. I am just fortunate.” Annett moved to RPR at the beginning of the 2012 season after Rusty Wallace Racing closed down their Nationwide division at the end of 2011. Some of the charity events that Annett gets to be involved with include golf tournaments and go kart races. Being the King, Richard Petty has his own karting event called the King’s Cup which is about three hours in length and helps raise money for the Victory Junction Gang Camp; a camp founded in memory of Richard’s grandson Adam Petty. The King’s Cup is a race that is held at Victory Lane Karting (VLK) and Annett spoke highly of the facility saying, “Victory Lane Karting is where you can say you raced,” meaning if you want a feel as to how it feels to race in the Nationwide series check out VLK.

Is 2013 going to be Annett’s season? Is he going to finally win a Nationwide series race? Will he contend and possibly take the title from Roush, after winning it two years in a row? Only time will tell, but you can count on Annett to be at the front each time he takes to the track as he is determined more than ever to prove he belongs in the highest ranks of motorsports.

For photos from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway please click here.

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