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Year in Review: Annett rebounded after dark start to '11

December 20, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Annett was at rock bottom in Feb. but turnaround would come in second half

Michael Annett had high hopes for 2011. Two years after finishing third in the battle for rookie of the year honors, Annett was ready to take the next step forward in his career by signing to drive full-time with Rusty Wallace Racing.

But all of those hopes crashed hard into stark reality two weeks before the start of the season when Annett was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. To his credit, he owned up to his mistake and issued an apology.

2011 statistics

Wins0
Top-fives0
Top-10s7
Poles0
DNFs3
Laps Led16
Avg. Start19.3
Avg. Finish16.4

Whether his off-track troubles contributed in any way to his slow start is unclear. But Annett languished outside of the top 10 for much for the first half of the season before meshing with crew chief Rick Viers and his team beginning with Road America.

From that point, Annett showed signs of reaching the potential many had expected from him since the 25-year-old Iowa native broke onto the stock-car scene in 2007, after a previous career as a professional hockey player.

Things to smile about

A seventh-place finish at Road America ignited a four-race mid-season hot streak for Annett. He finished sixth at Daytona and then added a pair of sevenths at Kentucky and Loudon.

Confidence breeds success, and that was definitely the case for Annett in 2011. He obviously got more comfortable as the season progressed, as his second-half numbers were significantly better than the way he started off the year.

Six of his seven top-10 finishes came in the final 18 races. He finished on the lead lap in nine of 13 races, and was running at the finish in 23 of 24 events, the exception being a crash that prematurely ended his night at Indianapolis.

Reasons to frown

Annett's DWI in February cast a huge pall over his season, even before it started. He eventually was given a suspended jail sentence of 120 days and two years of unsupervised probation.

"This is definitely the worst week of my life," Annett said before Daytona. "This can go two ways. It can be the end of me or the start of a new life and a better person and a better driver.

"I'm owning up to everything. There's no excuse for it. I'm taking full blame and hoping everybody can learn from this. It honestly scared the hell out of me."

Annett didn't have another brush with the law all season. But until his case was resolved, Annett struggled to find his footing. He crashed 29 laps into his first race with the team, finishing 39th. And in his first 13 races of 2011, Annett's best finish was 13th, and he didn't record his first top-10 finish until recording a ninth at Chicagoland.

Looking into the crystal ball

Annett's strong second-half run was the kind of thing that gives him some much-needed momentum heading into a second season at Rusty Wallace Racing. His relationship with Viers should only become stronger, and the consistency he began to show after Road America perhaps will lead to his first top-five finish.

In three full Nationwide Series seasons, Annett is continuing to show steady improvement. And now perhaps he's ready for that breakout season.

"We've got some really exciting things coming up the pike for 2012, and I can't wait to get back to Daytona in February," Annett said.

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