Race Weekend Central

Sam Mayer Can ‘Taste That 1st Win’ After Runner-Up Result at Auto Club Speedway

FONTANA, Calif. – What a difference a week makes. 

Sam Mayer wheeled his JR Motorsports Camaro to a runner-up result in Sunday night’s (Feb. 26) NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance 300 at Auto Club Speedway, a far cry from last week’s trip to the infield care center after the No. 1 car finished the race upside-down on the Daytona International Speedway backstretch. 

Speaking to Frontstretch from pit road after finishing just 0.651 seconds behind race winner John Hunter Nemechek, the Wisconsin native was pleased with what was an up-and-down night that nevertheless ended on a high note.

“We were just as good as the [No.] 20 at the end,” Mayer surmised. “I mean, we did not start off that way, we had a lot of work to do and our Accelerate Camaro got a lot better after we threw the kitchen sink at it … it’s a lot to be proud of, to go from a 20th-place car to a solid second-place car … I’m super proud of my guys for that.”

Mayer started the race 22nd after both practice and qualifying were canceled due to weather, and fell to 34th by the end of the first stage after some early contact with Tyler Reddick. A solid recovery to a quiet seventh-place result in stage two put Mayer in position to capitalize over the final 80 laps – the final 80 laps of competitive racing at Auto Club Speedway’s current two-mile configuration.

He joined the rest of the field (save for Sheldon Creed) in pitting under caution on lap 129 and restarted on the very edge of the top 10. Two strong restarts on laps 133 and 138 moved Mayer into second place as the race entered its waning phases.

See also
John Hunter Wins Final Xfinity Race Before Auto Club Revamp

From there, says Mayer, there wasn’t much he could do.

“We were at least the same speed as the [No. 20] there at the end,” he explained. “It’s just all about track position. I came out of pit road ninth or 10th, he came out second or third … That’s what it comes down to, the little tiny details, and if I was second, third, fourth on that last restart we would have been a little bit better, but you never know.”

As the laps ticked down, Mayer got to within a second of eventual race winner Nemechek. He couldn’t make up that final six tenths before the checkered flag, however.

Laughingly agreeing that losing by less than a second one week after wrecking out from the lead constituted “two different kinds of heartbreak,” the 19-year-old was still bullish on his future in the Xfinity Series: 

“I can taste that first win there,” he said. “It’s literally like 20-30 yards ahead of me and I just can’t break that bubble … I’m just ready for next week to come because I know we’ll have a lot of speed and be really good.”

Tonight’s result is Mayer’s 13th career top-five finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and his second runner-up performance (after the fall race last year at Talladega Superspeedway). He beat all three of his JRM teammates, too, something in which Mayer takes pride.

“Goal number one going into every week is to be the top JRM car,” he explained. “Because if you do that, you’re going to be top three at least … that’s a big deal.”

So when will he move up one position to victory lane? Looking to a new Chevrolet teammate for inspiration, Mayer made clear he isn’t going to settle for silver. 

Kyle Busch learns every day too, I mean you never stop learning,” he said. “I just learn more than a lot of veterans do, because there’s not as much knowledge up here [in my head] as some other guys out there like Justin [Allgaier] … sometimes, I’ve got to learn the hard way …

“Next week is [Las Vegas Motor Speedway] and that’s a really good track of mine, obviously a lot of momentum going into that one … I’m looking forward to it.”

About the author


Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast,but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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