|Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs|
Richard Petty Motorsports now employs a third driver with a surname beginning with the letter "A". Michael Annett joins Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola in driving for the winningest driver in NASCAR history.
When Rusty Wallace Racing announced they wouldn't field teams in 2012, the Des Moines, Iowa, native found himself without a ride in an offseason with more drivers than quality rides and more rides than sponsors.
Thanks to backing from Pilot Flying J, Annett landed on his feet, though. Having a major sponsor on board helped him score a seat at Richard Petty Motorsports, who formed a Nationwide Series race team for Annett and the company long associated with the Annett family's successful World of Outlaws team. Annett will drive the No. 43 Pilot Flying J Ford Mustang.
It's a sweet deal for the 25-year old, who began 2011 on quite a different note. Just under a year ago he made headlines with a much-less positive story. Annett, who was about to hit the track with his new RWR team, found himself in handcuffs after hitting a car stopped at a traffic light. Officers found Annett's blood-alcohol level to be .32, more than just a little over North Carolina's legal limit of .08, and charged him with misdemeanor driving while intoxicated, texting while driving, failure to reduce speed and resisting an officer.
According to NASCAR.com, the sanctioning body put Annett on probation for 2011 for violating that broad and ambiguous Section 12-1 "actions detrimental to stock car racing." Rusty Wallace allowed Annett to drive at Daytona and beyond, but subjected him to some internal sanctions in addition to NASCAR's imposition of random alcohol and drug testing.
The other charges were dropped, including the texting while driving charge that was actually Annett's second such offense. In July he pled guilty to driving while impaired and was sentenced to 120 days jail time, suspended, plus community service and suspension of his North Carolina driver's license. Fortunately for Annett, NASCAR doesn't require a street license to drive a racecar.
Also fortunately for Annett, money talks. Richard Petty, who avoids sponsorship from purveyors of alcohol, apparently has no such compunction against employing drivers who have run into trouble with it (ask AJ Allmendinger). Especially when that driver has the golden ticket of sponsorship in hand. While Annett finished ninth in points for 2011, he didn't exactly burn up the track with his seven top-ten finishes and 16 laps led. In his 105 NNS races, he's never finished higher than sixth.
Perhaps at RPM Annett will find the support he needs to develop the promise he showed in the ARCA series, where he won two of his 10 starts. Eight of those 10 races he finished ninth or better.
Perhaps Annett, along with RPM's other new driver, Aric Almirola, will provide new energy for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Perhaps having two No. 43 cars means fans will see that historic number in Victory Lane in 2012.
Bring on the "A" team!