MARTINSVILLE, VA. – This weekend, Sam Mayer returns to the site of his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series top-5 finish, $100,000 richer and a little wiser.
Mayer finished third at Richmond and bested A.J. Allmendinger, Austin Hill and Noah Gragson for the $100K Dash4Cash bonus.
The Wisconsin native took third from Allmendinger late into a 90-lap trek to the front – after finishing 10th in stage one and seventh in stage two.
“We struggled a bit with the car’s handling but we made really good adjustments on pit road, at the end of stage one and stage two – and that made the car really good toward the end of the last stage,” Mayer reflected. “That’s when we really started lighting the world on fire and getting up to third.”
The third-place finish was Mayer’s second-straight top-5 finish and his best career NXS finish. He moved from ninth to sixth in points – directly behind his three JR Motorsports teammates – and into a 37-point cushion for a playoff spot.
Mayer’s recent success is in contrast to being three points out of a playoff spot, in 13th, after only one top-20 finish in five races. Last season, Mayer also had seven finishes of 27th or worse, including six DNFs, in 18 starts.
Rookies are expected to have some early woes – but in light of rival Ty Gibbs’s instant success earlier in the season, some people questioned Mayer’s potential as he struggled. However, he and his team learned some valuable lessons.
“Having that under our belts, already, really kind of got us through the tough part since we’ve kind of learned as a team together and we came into this year with a lot of confidence,” Mayer said. “What I’ve been working on a lot is just understanding scenarios and the people I’m racing, which is a really big thing too. So being smart and methodical in my movement because I can affect myself in a better way if other people make mistakes.”
Mayer’s breakthrough race this season came at Auto Club Speedway, where he finished sixth after leading 25 laps. Then, at Circuit of the Americas, he led three laps and earned his first career NXS stage win.
“The first couple of races really mixed well with what we wanted and having that good finish at California and the West Coast kind of kind of kicked that off,” Mayer said. “We’ve had a lot of speed every weekend. So far this year, we’ve been among the top five or so in lap times.”
Mayer’s uptick in performance may be due to his focus being mostly on full-time NXS racing for JR Motorsports since last June – in contrast to 2020 when he ran six NCWTS, 13 ARCA, six ARCA East and two ARCA West races with GMS, plus some TransAm races.
“It’s made me a better racecar driver, just trying to adapt and learn to different race cars, but it comes to a point where you have to kind of focus on what you’re doing,” Mayer said. “Getting that focus toward the end of last year, now going into this year, has really helped me grow quite a bit in the Xfinity car and keep that knowledge that I learned. It’s big for us to get that consistency going.”
This weekend, Mayer will be riding his recent wave of consistency into Martinsville where, last October, he mounted a comeback toward his first career top-5 finish.
Early in the race, Mayer ran inside the top-10 until an incident with Ty Gibbs left him with a busted radiator on Lap 47. The Wisconsinite made up multiple laps in the following two stages and finished fourth.
“I feel pretty good. I mean, we had no practice last year and I ran top six for the first half of the race until we had our problem last year. After going two or three laps down early in the race, a top five was really unbelievable because the speed that we had was just unreal,” Mayer said. “And I expect to have that exact same speed because it’s the night race again, so the team should should be pretty good and I just got to go out there and do it.”
Mayer will also be racing against owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who signed Mayer in 2018. As a kid, he looked up to Earnhardt as his childhood hero – now he looks up to him as his car owner, mentor and competitor.
“He had most of the packaging in one just easily and he had it figured out,” Mayer remembered. “So I want to be like that one day where I can do that and give back but I got a long way to go to do that – but I have him by my side and I can call him or text them any time I have a question so it’s definitely beneficial.”
Mayer and Earnhardt last raced against each other in last September’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway.
Mayer finished 12th overall after leading 7 laps and earning four points for a seventh-place finish in stage two.
Earnhardt finished 14th overall with no laps led or stage points.
They will face off Friday, April 8 at Martinsville Speedway for the NXS Call 811 Before You Dig 250 (7:30 p.m. ET; TV: FS1; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).