Sam Mayer is ready for heightened expectations in 2023.
The 19-year-old from Franklin, Wisconsin is set to return for his second full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series season with JR Motorsports. But 2023 will be different for a plethora of reasons. Mayer calls it the “biggest year of my career by far” to prove he belongs.
“I have to perform this year and things have to go right,” Mayer told The Podium Finish. “I have to be the best teenager in the series, bar none. This is my breakout year.”
Mayer made his series debut in 2021, running the final 18 races once he turned 18. In 2022, he showed glimpses of success, piecing together a campaign with 19 top 10s and a berth in the Round of 8.
Mayer has shown consistency. Beginning at Circuit of the Americas in March, Mayer recorded top fives in seven of the next eight races and won the Dash 4 Cash at Richmond Raceway. All he’s missing is a win.
“Consistency comes from four really good cars and really good drivers being in the shop at once,” Mayer said. “We definitely proved that we can make things happen, especially my team … I feel good about it. I feel confident about what we had.”
Mayer had chances to win in 2022 that he felt slipped away. After driving to a stage victory at Dover Motor Speedway in April, Mayer lost a wheel coming off pit road and fell a lap down. He bounced back to finish fifth, but Mayer said he could have won the race without the misfortune.
The fall race at Talladega Superspeedway, however, was arguably his greatest opportunity. Mayer took the white flag and led through the tri-oval before AJ Allmendinger passed him. He lost by mere feet.
Despite the heartbreak, Mayer used the runner-up as a learning experience.
“It was my first real experience just kind of playing with the draft and seeing how that goes racing for the win,” Mayer said. “Obviously a ‘W’ would have been nice, but I learned so much in that instance and I got the feeling down.
“There’s been a lot of other races where I think I could have won … It shows that we can make things happen, it’s just a matter of being there at the end.”
Things will look different for Mayer in 2023. Although he’s returning to the same No. 1 Accelerate Chevrolet Camaro, Mayer will have Mardy Lindley atop the pit box while Taylor Moyer slides over to work with Josh Berry.
Lindley spent the last two seasons working for Kyle Busch Motorsports, but the combination isn’t new. Together, Mayer and Lindley won the 2019 K&N Pro Series East and 2020 ARCA Menards Series East championships.
“There’s a lot of things that Mardy knows and has up his sleeve that he can do really well,” Mayer said. “We have a really good just friendship because of the success we’ve had. We’ve gotten along so well over the last couple of years and now we’re getting to work together again at a higher level.”
Mayer made 46 starts with Moyer in 2021 and 2022 and praised their time together.
“ was one of the best years of my career. I learned so much more this year than I have in the last five years,” Mayer said. “We had our ups and downs, but I think Taylor is one of the best in the garage, and they’re going to be hard to beat, him and Josh [Berry] together.”
Mayer will also have a new teammate in 2023. Brandon Jones is joining the organization, filling the vacant spot left by Noah Gragson, who is moving to Cup with PettyGMS Racing.
Though he’ll admittedly miss having Gragson around, Mayer said he’s already worked out with Jones and is excited to further their relationship and grow the organization.
“It’s going to be a different atmosphere, but I’m super excited to see what Brandon can bring to the shop because he’s so smart,” Mayer said. “He’s been around a long time, you can consider him a veteran now and obviously he’s had success in the past. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Things will look different away from the shop, too. The Xfinity Series will have a whole new look in 2023.
Gragson, Ty Gibbs and AJ Allmendinger — who accounted for 20 of 33 wins in 2022 — are all now full-time Cup drivers. Rookies like Chandler Smith and Sammy Smith will provide a new, young flair. Cole Custer, who has 10 Xfinity wins and a Cup win, is back. John Hunter Nemechek is back after 67 starts over four years and a season in Cup. Series veterans like 2021 champion Daniel Hemric and teammate Justin Allgaier will return.
Mayer is ready for the challenge and knows he must capitalize.
“It’s going to be a different dynamic of racing. Like I think the racing is going to be a lot better,” Mayer said. “There’s literally going to be eight to 10 cars that could show up every week and have a chance to win. We’re going to be racing our butts off to really kind of win these races.”
It’ll be important to start the 2023 season strong, Mayer said. He has Auto Club Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway circled as early opportunities to get wins and build momentum. Mayer envisioned a start in 2023 similar to Gragson’s in 2022 — a win and several top fives.
He believes a hot start is a key to a great 2023 season.
“If I can set that tone in the first four races of the year during the West Coast swing, I think that would be amazing,” Mayer said. “I want to go out there and be that guy that can go out there, have an insane start of the year and then have momentum build.”