Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Welcome to the Sam Mayer Era

Can anybody stop Sam Mayer?

This weekend, Sam Mayer turns 18 and will spend his second day as an adult making his first start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The son of former part-time IndyCar Series driver Scott Mayer, Mayer has found success in everything he has strapped into.

In 2018, after a successful preteen career in Legend cars, Mayer signed with JR Motorsports at 14 years old to drive full time in the CARS Late Model Tour. Teamed with Josh Berry, Mayer won a race late in the season and finished fifth in points.

The following year, Mayer moved up to ARCA Menards Series East competition with GMS Racing through Chevrolet’s Driver Edge Development program. In East, Mayer won his first championship after winning four races and had top-five finishes in all but one of his eight starts.

Mayer impressed enough to where he was able to run three races late in 2019 in the Camping World Truck Series, almost winning at Martinsville Speedway before a late-race crash.

2020 was the year that anybody not paying attention to Mayer began doing so. ARCA East had a reduced schedule due to COVID-19, but Mayer still had an absolutely dominant season, with five wins and a second-place finish in six starts.

Had he been eligible to run full time in the main ARCA Menards Series, there is no doubt the Wisconsinite would have won a championship. In 13 starts, Mayer won five races and had an average finish of 3.4. That’s the best season for a driver running the majority of the races in 38 years. As unstoppable as Ty Gibbs has been this year in that series, his average finish is, comparatively, 5.1.

The cherry on the season was a surprise win for GMS in the Truck race at Bristol Motor Speedway in the fall. There have been some great prospects over recent years — Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Hailie Deegan come to mind — but none of them had the body of work that Mayer has before turning 18.

Mayer joins a loaded Xfinity driver roster with talent across the board. He isn’t competing for a driver’s championship this year, but with him running all but one NXS race remaining on the schedule, he should at least join rival Gibbs as key to their teams’ owner championship chances.

See also
Fire on Fridays: Sam Mayer Discusses 4 Obstacles of Replacing Josh Berry

Look at that?

Jeff Gordon will not be returning to the FOX broadcast booth next season, as he becomes the official number two at Hendrick Motorsports, Hendrick announced this week.

It’s not a surprising decision. Gordon kept an active role at Hendrick after retiring from driving and transitioning to a media job. There was never a lot of outrage about his conflicting role as a commentator yet co-owner of one of the series’ biggest teams, but there was always a conflict of interest.

It’ll be interesting to see what FOX does with Gordon’s chair at the network. It is very obvious that the next great driver-announcer will be Kevin Harvick, but even with his down year in the NASCAR Cup Series, it’s hard to imagine Harvick getting out of a car right now. With how good he is every year as the lap-by-lap announcer in the driver-only broadcasts, I wouldn’t be shocked if FOX is aiming for him to be the Mike Joy successor down the road.

The best person to pair with Clint Bowyer in the FOX stable is easily Jamie McMurray. Both had good chemistry last year in the NXS in-studio broadcasts that probably got Bowyer his current gig.

Larry McReynolds made it clear that he would not be closed to returning to the booth, but that would be a mistake. McReynolds is great in his current role as the guy in the closet with a lot of data that chimes in every 20 minutes or so if he sees something. Having him back in a booth for three hours would take that edge away that has kept him fresh the last few years.

What other charters are on the market?

Late last week, Kaulig Racing announced it had bought two charters from Spire Motorsports.

Kaulig will field two cars next season in the Cup Series, one with Justin Haley driving full time and a trophy-hunting second car, with AJ Allmendinger driving part time. Allmendinger will stay in the Xfinity Series running full time for Kaulig. The team hopes to field two to three NXS cars next season. There were no other driver announcements outside of a mention of part-time Cup driver Kaz Grala, who it noted was somebody it wanted to keep in some capacity.

It’s not surprising that Spire sold a charter. It’s surprising that Spire sold two of its charters, although in this particular instance, it should be mentioned that one of the charters sold has Todd Braun, Haley’s uncle, as the controlling owner. It’s unclear if Braun’s stake in that charter was also sold or if he has simply taken a co-ownership role with Kaulig. Spire’s lone Cup car next season will be the No. 7 and Corey LaJoie is confirmed to return, although Spire has not shut the door on getting another charter.

It is rumored that Kaulig paid $10 million for each charter. This sounds like crazy money, but if you think about this less as a NASCAR car being allocated media rights money and more as one of 36 teams in a major professional sport, it’s actually pretty cheap.

Of the charters still potentially on the open market, it’s hard to say where they are at. Rick Ware controls four charters and has said he doesn’t plan on selling any of them, but $10 million is a lot of money. The BK Racing charter was valued at $2 million just a few years ago; that would probably be around $8-9 million due to where those Spire charters rank in comparison to other charters.

If the season ended right now, one charter’s status would be very interesting. NASCAR has a rule that if a charter finishes in the bottom three of the owner points among charter teams for three straight years, NASCAR reserves the right to strip the team of their charter. The only charter in danger of this is the No. 51, which is co-owned by Richard Petty Motorsports (it’s the charter of the old No. 9/No. 44) but controlled and operated by RWR. It would not surprise me if NASCAR revoked the charter and held a blind auction for it (as explained by Denny Hamlin this past weekend), considering Ware’s status and how many charters Rick Ware Racing currently controls.

See also
Denny Hamlin: NASCAR Cup Series Charter Market in a 'Bubble'

Who can take control of the Tricky Triangle?

This weekend marks the second year of the Pocono Raceway doubleheader experiment.

Created as a way for NBC to have two off weekends next month for the Olympics, a lot of the questions involved with this weekend were answered in multiple unplanned doubleheaders last year due to the coronavirus.

One thing to keep in mind this weekend is the rain in the forecast and the lack of lights. It would not be a surprise to see any of the four races moved to Monday or ended prematurely entirely. That could open the door for a risk taker like Brian Pattie, crew chief of the No. 47 Chevrolet, to take advantage and get Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to victory lane.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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