It’s been a breakout season for Sam Mayer in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and now, the season will culminate with a guaranteed chance at winning the championship, after scoring another clutch victory in Saturday’s Contender Boats 300.
The 20-year-old driver was able to defend against a rapidly closing Riley Herbst in the closing laps of Saturday’s 300-mile contest to secure his fourth victory of the season, and his first on an oval in the Xfinity Series.
“I can’t believe it, these guys, the Accelerate [Pros] Camaro today was just so good,” Mayer told NBC Sports after the race. “Like, obviously the No. 00, he was as fast as Xfinity 10G, but so were we. It’s all about putting a full race together, and I’m so proud of these guys, they kicked tail on pit road, and we made it happen with these HMS engines.”
Mayer led 48 laps en route to his victory on Saturday, second to only Cole Custer, who had control over much of the event, before wall contact cut a right-front tire and forced the Stewart-Haas Racing driver to make an unscheduled pit stop.
The Franklin, Wisconsin-native would gain control of the event in lieu of Custer’s slight mishap, only relinquishing the lead to Sheldon Creed for four laps while under the caution, when the No. 2 Chevrolet team elected to keep Creed out on the track.
However, the closing laps of the race became a platform for Mayer to display his level-headedness, having to defend against the series’ most recent winner, Riley Herbst, who clearly had a quicker car in the closing laps of the event.
“Stewart-Haas had it today, that’s for sure,” Mayer added. “It’s just really cool to beat an amazing organization like that. Riley [Hebrst]’s definitely turned it on, and we got to turn it on a little yarder going to Phoenix.”
Crossing the start-finish line with an advantage of 0.227 seconds over Riley Herbst, Mayer became the first driver to guarantee his spot in the Final Four, leaving the remaining seven drivers to travel to Martinsville and fight it out.
John Hunter Nemechek secured a third-place finish in Saturday’s event, while fellow post-season competitor Austin Hill benefitted his chances of advancement with a fourth-place result, allowing both drivers to leave Homestead above the cutline.
In his second and final Xfinity Series start of the year, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. completed the top five, driving a fifth entry for JR Motorsports. The result marks the first top-five for the NBC Analyst since 2020.
Daniel Hemric earned a solid sixth-place result, while Parker Kligerman was able to rebound from significant wall contact – and an unscheduled pit stop – to finish in seventh. Brandon Jones, Sammy Smith, and Joe Graf, Jr. completed the top-10.
Cole Custer, despite the flat right-front tire during the race’s final stage, was able to finish 13th, as the first car off the lead lap. Justin Allgaier, who suffered from a loose wheel early in the final stage, would rebound to a top-15.
Sheldon Creed, who entered Homestead pretty much in a must-win situation, looked to have a potentially race-winning strategy, with the stipulation that he found a caution flag over the course of the race’s final run.
Not only was there no caution flag displayed throughout the run, but he nearly ended up being the cause of one, after he got turned nearly head-on into the outside wall at the entrance to the third corner, severely damaging the No. 2 Chevrolet.
Chandler Smith was the only post-season-eligible driver who failed to finish Saturday’s event, after getting involved in an accident triggered by Brandon Jones and teammate Derek Kraus, which caused major damage to the No. 16.
Leaving Homestead, the NASCAR Xfinity Series travels to Martinsville Speedway for the penultimate event of the season and the elimination race for the ‘Round of 8’, where the field for the Final Four will be officially set.
Barring a new winner, the battle will be a tough one, with Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, and Austin Hill all being separated by three points heading to the half-mile paperclip.