AVONDALE, Ariz. — Sam Mayer ended up walking away after falling short of a NASCAR Xfinity Series title with his head held high at Phoneix Raceway on Saturday. The 20-year-old from Franklin, Wisconsin finished fifth, good for third in points in his second full-time season.
Mayer threatened throughout the race, finishing in the top five of each of the first two stages but never led a lap. However, with five laps to go, the No. 1 JR Motorsports entry got the final opportunity it needed. While Mayer ran fourth, Anthony Alfredo went for a spin, bringing out a caution and setting up NASCAR Overtime.
Though it gave Mayer a chance to win, it did the same for the other Championship 4 drivers. At the time, Cole Custer led with John Hunter Nemechek in second and Justin Allgaier in third.
But Mayer just didn’t quite have enough in the two-lap dash for the title. All four championship drivers exited Turn 2 at nearly four wide, but Custer, who led 98 laps, ended up prevailing to win his first Xfinity championship.
Mayer, though, had pride after the result.
“That was probably the most fun I’ve had in a race car in a long time,” Mayer said in a press conference after the race. “We came up a little bit short, but it wasn’t a lack of effort. Our Accelerated guys put together an amazing piece today. They’ve done a great job this entire year. They gave me the opportunity to have a breakout year and even make it to this point.
“It’s hectic out there. Like obviously that first restart before overtime we were going to finish fourth, and the good Lord above gave us another shot at it. We came up a little bit short, but it was a really cool opportunity to be able to put on a show like that for one, and to even say that I had a shot at the championship is cool.”
Going into the championship race, Mayer had struggled at Phoenix Raceway. In his four previous starts, his best finish was 11th, which came in the spring.
“Being in the Championship 4, it’s like that extra level of just intensity,” Mayer said. “You have to rise to the occasion to do that. It just makes you perform better. I think it kind of opened my eyes and gave me another ‘a-ha’ moment to where I can do this every week.
“The car was really good, obviously. All four of the Champ cars were really fast. That’s why we were all up front. I was like, man, I’m running fourth right now and I’m still losing. Being fourth obviously at a track like this with my history with it, I’m stoked because it’s my best finish here so far.”
All things considered, Mayer had his breakout Xfinity Series season. He won four times, all of which have came since his victory at Road America on July 29. Mayer won at Watkins Glen in August and had a walk-off win in the Round of 12 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. He scored his first oval victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Round of 8 to clinch a championship spot.
The JR Motorsports driver ended up with 13 top fives and 19 top 10s. His average finish was 13.2
“These cars are hard to drive. I finally figured it out, got that first win, and the floodgates kind of just opened,” Mayer said. “I always told myself that was going to happen, and to have it happen feels good because I was almost gas-lighting myself until it happened. It feels good to finally get that going. Obviously to make the Champ 4 in general is huge. That’s a feat in itself.
“I’m happy to be here. It put a smile on my face all week because you only have one first time here in the Champ 4, so I’m looking forward to having another one and doing even better.”
Mayer will return to JRM in 2024.