Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Sam Mayer Wins a Thriller at Road America

The Henry 180 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. (July 29), immediately enters the conversation for race of the year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The race featured plenty of calamity and attrition, and a spectacular double overtime shootout for the win.

Sam Mayer emerged victorious, clinching his first career win, at his home track.

AJ Allmendinger started from the pole position but led only the first five laps. On lap six, Justin Allgaier took over and he led a dominant 42 of 49 laps. Allmendinger battled electrical, handling and brake issues throughout the day and finished ninth.

There will be plenty of people who question whether Allmendinger should have stayed in Richmond, Va., for the NASCAR Cup Series race. Allmendinger sits one spot out of the Cup playoffs entering this weekend. Allmendinger will start last in the Cup race after Kaulig Racing driver Derek Kraus practiced and qualified his car while Allmendinger was trophy hunting at Road America.

See also
Sage Karam Finishes 4th, Battles for Lead Late in Career Day at Road America

Stage three featured three late-race cautions that led to a legendary battle between Allgaier, Sage Karam, Parker Kligerman, Austin Hill and eventual winner and Wisconsin native Mayer.

Brake failures led to spectacular crashes for Chandler Smith and Alex Labbe, with Smith intentionally running into the left, and Labbe the right side walls on the frontstretch to scrub off speed before reaching turn 1.

Labbe laid down on the ground after climbing from his wrecked car to catch his breath. After exiting the care center, he stopped to tell me his thoughts on the wreck.

“I’ve never been scared in a race car … that was the most scared I’ve ever got for sure,” he said.

I was critical of Josh Berry squandering the win last week at Pocono Raceway, and he finished sixth here, but there was another controversial moment for next year’s driver of the No. 4 NASCAR Cup Series car. Berry looks to have endured slight contact from Kaz Grala and veered right, hooking Sammy Smith. Cole Custer found himself collected in the melee.

After a red flag break due to fluid on the track the double-overtime-induced finish commenced. The penultimate lap had shades of the legendary finish at Watkins Glen International in 2012, where the drivers repeatedly went off track and traded the lead back and forth several times.

Allgaier overshot a corner, handing the lead to Karam. Eventually, Karam got off track and Sam Mayer was able to take the lead. Mayer and Kligerman jockeyed for the lead, with Mayer ultimately getting away to win his first ever Xfinity race.

The Winners

This was a gigantic first win for Mayer. The Franklin, Wis., native is 20 years old and is racing in his second full-time season in the series. Winning in such dramatic fashion at his home track has to be a huge boon for his confidence and career moving forward. Mayer was already in safe playoff position on points but he can now rest assured he’ll be there.

Kligerman’s second place finish was the best of his Xfinity career. He collected some points in stage two. He gained just one point on Riley Herbst, who he came in trailing for the final playoff position. Now, Kligerman exits Road America just 22 points behind Sheldon Creed for the final playoff position. Herbst was able to leapfrog Creed with his fifth place result, while Creed finished 26th.

After the race, Kligerman told me about his day, and Hill joined the conversation to talk about how they raced each other cleanly at the end. Hill had been mired mid-pack for much of the race but rebounded to finish third.

The Losers

Brett Moffitt had been on a tear in recent weeks, elevating his team from midpack to a legitimate playoff threat on points. He had climbed to within 54 points of the playoff cut line. A mechanical issue ended Moffitt’s day early. He told me he is now in must-win territory. He cited Daytona as his best chance to win, but felt he could be in the mix at other tracks too, and they could call races more aggressively to go for wins.

Jeremy Clements had a tough weekend. The 2017 Road America Cinderella winner crashed in qualifying, had to go to a backup car, and finished 27th. Coming into the weekend, Clements was a trendy dark-horse pick. Like Moffitt, Clements is in must-win territory, and will likely be in the mix at Daytona.

See also
Wisconsin-Born Sam Mayer Scores 1st Career Xfinity Series Win at Road America

Schemes of the Week

Well, folks, I’m breaking my own rule here and picking two schemes this week. I just couldn’t make up my mind between the head and the heart. As a Wisconsin resident who watched a Wisconsin driver win the race, I am obligated to acknowledge the scheme driven by Blaine Perkins. Road America is passionate Green Bay Packers territory, and this car looked ready to slap on a cheesehead and make bold predictions about Jordan Love becoming a Hall of Famer.

But wait, there’s more! Brad Perez is your first repeat scheme of the week winner, albeit in a tie this time around. Being at the track and seeing this sweet ride up close made it even tougher to leave out. This Bonesteel Aerospace ride was adorned with a rocket and stars throughout. Perez achieved his career-best finish in 19th, in only his sixth Xfinity start.

Fuel for Thought

The announcement of The CW taking over Xfinity television coverage in 2025 was monumental news. NASCAR’s secondary series will suddenly have every race available on broadcast TV and streaming for free on the CW app.

The reported financial numbers of the deal were well received by a driver and a team owner I spoke with this weekend. The purse figures to increase, which will be a huge benefit to all drivers and teams, but especially those in the second half of the pack who currently have all they can handle to make it to the track and keep afloat financially.

Some people may not even realize they have The CW, but it is available to as many households as the big networks. For years, some fans have complained about having to pay for cable or streaming to watch the series. That will be coming to an end. Fans of the series should be very proud and excited about the future.

Where to Next?

We’re headed to Brooklyn, Mich., for the Cabo Wabo 250. Last time we were there, it was Ty Gibbs besting Allgaier by 1.16 seconds.

The action kicks off Saturday, Aug. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC and the Motor Racing Network.

About the author

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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